Candidate cautions on county spending

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By Roger Snodgrass

Two of the three speakers scheduled for a Kiwanis Club lunch Tuesday were unable to attend, and that meant more time for county council candidate Vincent P. Chiravalle to introduce himself.

Chiravalle, a Republican and a Ph.D. in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering from Princeton University, is making his first bid for county office.

He emphasized campaign issues organized around the theme of Los Alamos as “a special place” and controlled spending.

The special features he wants to build on and preserve include “the high-powered national laboratory” where important contributions to science and national security are made, the views and natural amenities of the surrounding area, and the small town atmosphere where families can feel safe.

Chiravalle said he has “the energy, the ideas and the determination” for the job.

Also part of his campaign is a commitment to “look critically at public spending,” and to make “frugal investments that help improve our economy.”

Recognizing that the county is enjoying a period of additional revenues, he said, spending has to be prioritized.

“We shouldn’t try to do it all at once,” he said. “I want to hold the line on capital spending.”

He prefers to see investments made in areas that advance the community’s status as a “gateway to nature,” and economic development projects that would bring more high-paying jobs and more students into the community.

He agrees with the concept of expanding retail choices, but “in a sensible way,” and questioned the $65 million that is apportioned for Trinity Site.

“That’s a bit much for a shopping center,” he said, injecting a note of caution in the discussion.

“I’m not afraid to say no  if the costs become too much compared to the returns,” he said.

During an open discussion that followed, Los Alamos County Councilor Fran Berting cautioned Chiravalle to distinguish between the money that would be spent on the Airport Basin and the Trinity Site Redevelopment project with the Boyer Company.

“County money is not going to drive the mall,” she said.

“No, that’s right,” Chiravalle responded, returning to his emphasis on economizing where possible.

Former school board member Morrie Pongratz, suggested Chiravalle consider the Los Alamos school system as another “jewel” of the community, raising the issue of the growing property tax burden, at a time when the schools need money for new buildings.

“The county did not lower the property taxes when it started getting an extra $20 million a year,” he noted.

“I am in favor of the county cutting its property tax when the school board offers its bonding,” Chiravalle said.

Additional discussion centered around questions about the pace of decision-making by the governing body.

Rick Reiss – the local developer whose company, Main Gate, LLC, was selected in 2005 for the Entrada Business Park adjacent to the Airport Basin – described the decision-making process, not just for his own project, as “analysis, paralysis and second guessing.”

He asked, “How would you move things along?”

Chiravalle said, “The council has to change when there are changing circumstances.” He added, “I want the community to be engaged.”

Keven Holsapple, executive director of the Los Alamos Commerce and Development Corporation, wondered how to break the cycle of delays in the approval process.

“Small numbers of people with strong feelings emerge late in the process,” he said. “How do you get beyond that?”

Chiravalle spoke of the need “to make our voices count.”

He said, “I am not in favor of imposing things on the public.”

Chiravalle works in the Applied Physics Division at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He lives in Hawks Landing on North Mesa and is president of the homeowners association.

Rep. Jeannette Wallace, R-Los Alamos, Sandoval and Santa Fe, and Sharon Stover, a former county councilor and GOP candidate for county council, were unable to attend the Kiwanis lunch.

They have rescheduled to speak at the Kiwanis Club June 3, the day of the primary election, along with independent county council candidate Michael Wismer, who is also a former councilor seeking to return.