Council to consider nixing utility revenue transfer

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At an infrastructure and open space town hall meeting Wednesday, something may be done about a law that may be adding an extra financial burden on the Los Alamos Department of Public Utilities.

An ordinance in the town code requires the Los Alamos Department of Public Utilities to transfer at least 5% of its annual profits from gas and electric to the county’s General Fund. 

“I think every council member wants to take a look at that to see if it’s even appropriate,” Councilor James Robinson said. “Are we harming our utilities department by requiring them to still do that? Even former Councilor Morris Pongratz said that it was antiquated.”

Robinson added that if they do take a look at the ordinance this year, they would probably build some flexibility into the measure.

Robinson envisioned implementing a moratorium against collecting of some sort when the department had a special project in the works.

“So maybe, should economic times change, we’ll have that revenue source if need be, but if we don’t need it, we won’t force them to give it to us. We’ll make it an option,” Robinson said.

Los Alamos Public Utilities Manager Tim Glasco, who is retiring in July, said it’s up to the council, the Los Alamos County Board of Public Utilities and the public’s discretion as to what they want to do.

“That decision will quite properly be made by the Board of Public Utilities and County Council after much discussion and with citizen input,” Glasco said.

In the 1990s, the Los Alamos County created a resolution around the law.

Former Councilor Morrie Pongratz helped create the resolution, but now he thinks it should be retired.

“That was in the days when the lab, who is the biggest impact on the community, didn’t pay any gross receipts tax. We were scrambling for every dollar we could find,” Pongratz said.

Now, with the lab paying over $20 million in gross receipts tax to the county annually, Pongratz thought there should be no need for the practice.

“Once the lab lands started paying gross receipts tax, I certainly thought that resolution should be disregarded.”

Councilor Pete Sheehey, who was also a host at the meeting, said a change definitely needs to be made.

“Most people said you don’t want to take profit out of the utilities, you want to put that back into the fixing it,” Sheehey said. “I’m committed to working with the town attorney to come up with a legal way within the present charter to do that. If we can’t find that, we’ll have to change the charter.”

Sheehey also said Diamond Drive will be repaved this year, regardless on whether or not the county secures construction grants.

“Everyone has agreed we got to fix Diamond Drive.  Grant or no grant, we’re still going to have to fix it. It would be great if we got reimbursed, but we can’t wait.

The other topic that residents were most concerned about were a series of capital improvement recreation projects that were put on hold for a year while the county waited to see if the Los Alamos Laboratory, now managed and operated by a non-profit contractor, was going to still pay gross receipts tax.

Now that the issue was settled through state legislation, the county put the projects back in its proposed fiscal 2020 budget.

Councilor and meeting host Katrina Schmidt said it was time to move forward with those and also determine their priority.

Projects include improvements to the Los Alamos County Golf Course, the skating rink and creating a generational pool at the Larry R. Walkup Center.

“I want to see where the support is, and where it isn’t,” Schmidt said. “I want to know not how the people feel about all the projects as a group, but about each individual project.”