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Third in a three-part series
Municipal Judge Alan Kirk swore in new councilors Steve Girrens, Kristin Henderson and Pete Sheehey, along with new county clerk Sharon Stover last week.
The priorities each of the new councilors has established as they prepare to take up the reins may point to some shifting alliances as the council is reformulated after the first of the year and it may also shed some light on how these new councilors will reshape local governance during the next four years.
“The thing that I was talking about all through the campaign and people were telling me about as I was knocking on doors was priorities,” Sheehey said. “Can we really afford all the things we’ve committed to and are they the most important things that we should be spending our money on?”
Sheehey’s priorities are public safety, infrastructure and support for public education, economic development and recreational amenities — in that order. He asserts that most of the people he has talked to have similar priorities and questions whether the previous council followed those priorities when they decided on CIP funding.
“We’re facing a budget shortfall, so much so that Harry and the council rightly said wait a minute; we need to hold off on signing any new contracts until we re-evaluate what we’re doing in light of not just the present budget situation, but as we look over the next few years.
“In some instances these projects that have been committed to, it’s not possible to contract anyway this year, so we can put off those expenditures. But we still need to look at them. Can we indeed put up the $33 million? Are we going to have that the next few years or do we need to push back a little further on some of these projects and do the most important things?
“I expect we’re going to be able to support a lot of these things, but maybe not quite the scale we wanted. And here’s where priorities come in. For my way of thinking, one way of prioritizing is you rate projects, and the higher the priorities those projects meet, the better we should fund it.
“So the number one thing I’m looking at in the short term is let’s go through a priority-setting exercise and make sure what we’re doing does meet the highest priorities.”
Sheehey sets a high value on economic development.
“If we can create the kind of environment where businesses can thrive in downtown White Rock and Los Alamos, that is one of my highest goals,” Sheehey said.
He believes council should support retail development, find ways to increase tourism and leverage funds to incentivize what he called “dirt cheap low-rent space” for startup companies.
“We do have startups, we’ve had some successes, but we have to keep consistently supporting that and keep listening to the startup businesses and the retail businesses that are telling us what they need,” Sheehey said.
“The overarching thing we’re trying to do here is have some diversity, not just with retail businesses but with start ups and technical businesses, so that when the lab has the downturn, as it’s gone through many times, that doesn’t make everybody go out of business. I think we can do that, but it’s going to take some focus.”
Sheehey said that he also wants council to discuss ways to increase safety at the schools in light of the recent shooting in Newtown, Conn.