Baker reviews 2007

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By Katy Korkos

Max Baker is the county administrator for Los Alamos County, whose job it is to oversee the implementation of all of the policy decisions of the county council, coordinate projects and oversee the daily operations of County staff. Surrounded by boxes in his temporary office in 133 Central Park Square, where the office was moved after the Municipal Building was vacated, Baker reviewed the past year.

As Baker gave an overview of the county’s achievements in the year 2007, and listed the emptying out of the county’s administrative building as one of his least favorite achievements. “It had to be done,” Baker said, in view of the fact that the building has been declared a hazardous structure.

“The highlights of the year for me were the White Rock Fire Station, the wastewater treatment plant, and the Diamond Drive Phase I projects. They were all completed on time and within budget parameters. These were big projects, with very good results," Baker said. “Money left at the end of those projects gets reprogrammed into other projects,” Baker said.

“It feels like a long time ago now, but the passage of the referendum on ordinance 529 was a big step,” Baker said. He said that the passage of the referendum and the issuance of bonds for Airport Basin “allows the Trinity Place development to become a reality. We haven’t gotten across every one of the hurdles yet, but it was a good start.” The negotiating team, including Baker, has invested several months in the discussion of the details of agreements between the county, the schools and the Boyer Company, who was chosen to develop school property on Trinity Drive. The results from the negotiations, including lease agreements and developer agreements, will be combined into an ordinance to be presented to council in late January 2008.

“We’re hopeful that the ordinance will go before council at the end of January.” He said that the passage of the referendum on Jan. 30, 2007, was significant because “it gave us tangible confirmation that the council is in touch with the desires of the community. It was the wish of the majority of the community that development on Trinity Place proceed,” Baker said.

He also cited three significant improvements in services to local residents as being points of pride for him.

”We’re now dispatching through a consolidated dispatch center,” Baker said. “In terms of public safety, having a single answering point for emergency response is much safer. We eliminated the phone transfer process, and along with that the potential for miscommunication.”

Atomic City Transit was another great addition in service throughout the county cited by Baker. “The smoothness of the start up of the transit system in October just shows how much preplanning went into it and the quality of the people doing the planning,” Baker said.

The third improvement in service Baker mentioned was roll-cart recycling.

“People are very happy with it and we’ve increased volume substantially,” Baker said. He added that increasing recycling means that less material goes into landfills.

Baker also finds the creation of the county’s Youth Advisory Board an important improvement in 2007. “We’ll get feedback on how we could make this a better community for youth now, and what’s important for the future of the community.” He said that two of his own grown children have come back to Los Alamos to live. “That says a lot about the community as a whole. We don’t have the big cities’ problems here, but on the flip side, we don’t have some of the amenities.”

Ongoing negotiations with the DOE/NNSA to create a fire service contract, for the county to provide fire service to the laboratory have occupied much of Baker’s time in recent months, and he feels that his efforts are well worth pursuing.

“ A fire service contract provides for continuity between the lab and the community, with fire services provided across the county. The federal government saves a significant amount of money because they can contract with us, and we have state of the art fire protection,” Baker said. “We get a highly trained force of firefighters that we wouldn't be able to support without the contract. I don't know why more communities with federal installations don't do this."

Baker has served as the finance director, administrative services director, deputy county administrator and interim county administrator before his present appointment as County administrator, working in Los Alamos since 1992.

Acknowledging the fact that the Cerro Grande fire of 2000 had put many county projects on hold, Baker said, “In my opinion, we’ve gotten more done in the last three or four years than in the previous 12 years.”