Budget hearings near finish line

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By Jennifer Garcia

The Los Alamos County budget hearings sailed along Thursday night, with discussion focusing on the budgets of various departments.

During that discussion, councilors took a significant amount of time talking about the tennis courts throughout the county and their condition.

The meeting opened with Council Vice Chair Mike Wismer making a motion to approve a 3 percent salary adjustment pool in the FY 2010 Proposed Budget. The motion passed 7-0.

Following the vote, another motion was made, this time by Council Chair Michael Wheeler, to approve a full-time employee that would be assigned to the council for quality initiatives.

Had the motion been approved, $85,000 would have been set aside to implement the idea. However, councilors were not convinced that the FTE was a good idea.

“I want more information before I approve $85,000,” Councilor Sharon Stover said. “I’d like to talk to people from local governments and from Quality New Mexico. I want to know what we’re getting for our money.”

Councilor Vincent Chiravalle said that he found it insulting to hire someone at the cost of $85,000 to judge the performance of the council.

“The quality of the council should only be judged by the public and that will be done on Election Day,” he said.

Though he said he was favorably inclined to hire an FTE, Councilor Robert Gibson also made clear he was not favorably inclined to add money to funding for the position.

Also opposed to the measure was Councilor Nona Bowman.

“I think we need more time to digest this,” she said. After further discussion, Wheeler withdrew the motion.

Next on the agenda was the county administrator’s budget.

The motion for approval was made by Stover, however, Chiravalle added an amendment, which changed the FY10 Proposed Budget by amending the dollar amount for the Public Information item, from $435,109 to $400,000.

The amendment passed 6-1, with Councilor Ralph Phelps opposed. Council then voted on the tentative approval of the County Administrator’s FY10 Proposed Budget, which passed with a 6-1 vote.

Again, Phelps voted against it.

Next up was the budget for the Community Development Department. Stover made the motion, seconded by Phelps to tentatively approve the FY10 Proposed Budget in the amount of $1,220,279.

Wismer offered a friendly amendment that $20,000 be added under the Contractual Services item, targeted for affordable housing, however his amendment was not accepted. The motion to approve the budget passed 5-2, with Gibson and Wismer opposed.

Both the fire department and police department budgets were approved quickly, with very little discussion. In addition, both motions regarding the budgets for these departments were passed unanimously.

The longest discussion of the evening came with the budget for the Community Services Department. Talk about the tennis courts kicked off when Chief Financial Officer Steven Lynne said,

“Because of a CIP application for the tennis courts, there’s been discussion for tennis courts maintenance.”

Community Services Director Stephani Johnson told councilors that she and her staff have come up with a tentative plan that they will present to council in May.

“We have $28,000 in this year’s budget to cover maintenance. We’ll need an extra $7,000 a year to keep up that maintenance,” she said. She also suggested adding $40,000 to this year’s budget for structural issues.

Phelps, however, was unconvinced of the strategy being described.

“I react negatively to adding any money until someone comes to me with a plan,” he said.

Johnson responded to Phelps’ and told him that just because there’s a decrease in maintenance that does not mean that they are not doing anything.

“We have a plan we’re working on. We’re trying to make the most efficient use of the people we have,” she said.

Following Johnson’s comments, Stover made a motion to amend the proposed budget by adding a covered arena conceptual design study, in the amount of $20,000 and designate the general fund as a revenue source. Gibson offered a friendly amendment to add $400,000 to the Other Potential Projects item in the CIP FY 10 Proposed Budget, which was accepted.

The motion to amend the budget and add the $400,000 passed 6-1, with Phelps opposed.

Discussion of the tennis courts continued following the vote. Bowman said that if the county has tennis courts, they should be maintained.

Chiravalle noted that the courts are in what he described as an “atrocious” state. “I think it would be prudent to put money in for the contractual services so these items can be addressed. This is an issue of maintaining what we have. The condition is an embarrassment to the county,” he continued.

Phelps, however, was not swayed.

“I remain unconvinced that there’s a plan in place to use this money,” he said.

Despite Phelps’ reservations, Bowman made a motion, seconded by Chiravalle, that the Community Services Department – Parks FY10 Proposed Budget be amended, by adding $47,000 under contractual services, for structural improvements and maintenance of tennis courts; and that council tentatively approve the Community Services Proposed Budget in the amount o f $9,813,402,

After some discussion the motion was divided into two parts, the first being the $47,000 for the tennis courts, which failed to pass council. Gibson, Stover, Wismer and Phelps all opposed.

The proposed budget, however, did receive the green light, with a 6-0 vote, from which Stover abstained.

Budget discussion for the Utilities Department and the Capital Projects and Facilities Department rounded out the night, with brief explanations of both presented to council. The proposed budget for the Utilities Department in the amount of $77,008,671 passed unanimously.

Stover moved that council approve the proposed budget for the Capital Projects and Facilities Department in the amount of $117,070,006 however, Chiravalle offered a friendly amendment that was not accepted. Ultimately, the original motion passed 7-0.

The budget hearings will conclude Tuesday night at 7 p.m. in council chambers.