Councilor questions use of funds

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By Jennifer Garcia

Los Alamos County budget hearings will continue Tuesday at 7 p.m. in council chambers as councilors did not get through all the agenda items during their Thursday meeting.

Though the majority of the county departments’ budgets were tentatively approved, council is yet to discuss and approve budgets for Public Works and Administrative Services.

A significant amount of time was taken up Thursday by discussion that focused on the maintenance and condition of the county’s tennis courts. Councilors discussed whether or not $47,000 should be appropriated for structural improvements and maintenance of the courts.

While councilors Nona Bowman and Vincent Chiravalle felt that the money should be added to the budget, Council Vice Chair Mike Wismer and councilors Robert Gibson, Sharon Stover and Ralph Phelps opposed the measure.

At one point during the meeting, Gibson asked Community Services Director Stephani Johnson what happened to the money in the maintenance budget and why she was asking for the $47,000.

“We already have a maintenance budget,” Gibson said, “If something hasn’t been maintained, I want to know why.”

Johnson did not answer Gibson’s question during the meeting, but when contacted by phone Friday, she said that former Parks Manager Wayne Kohlrust, who is now the county’s Internal Services Division Manager was looking into the matter.

“There was major maintenance done in 1998 and 1999, then the fire came and due to other priorities and with a change in staffing, it was never instituted,” Johnson said. She also explained that tennis court maintenance used to fall under the duties of the Public Works Department at one time.

“I know they spent about $200,000 in 2001 on tennis courts,” Johnson continued. “It sounds like we spent a significant amount of money, then didn’t come up with a plan for maintaining the tennis courts.”

When asked why there was no plan instituted for regular maintenance, Johnson said, “There’s no excuse. There have been three parks managers since I’ve been here and I think we’ve been lax in following up on the tennis courts.”

During Thursday night’s meeting, Chiravalle called the state of the tennis courts atrocious. Johnson, however, disagrees.

“They’re not atrocious, but they do need some work. The environment isn’t attractive. The wind screens are torn, the nets are sagging and the fences need to be redone,” she said.

“We finally sat down with them (council) and it’s been four weeks since we’ve been able to come up with a draft plan. We’ve got so many other things going on and we’re torn in so many other directions. You want to come up with a professional recommendation and that takes time,” she said of implementing a maintenance plan for the courts.

Johnson and Parks Manager Dick McIntyre will appear before council on May 12 to further discuss the maintenance for the tennis courts, as well as budget issues and will also be able to provide an answer to Gibson’s question regarding maintenance funds and what they were used for.

During a phone interview Friday, Kohlrust, who used to be the county’s parks manager, explained that money in the Deferred Maintenance fund was used in 2000 and 2001 to resurface the two north courts at Urban, Rover and Piñon.

Kohlrust said there was about $140,000-$150,000 in the fund. “I believe all of it was used,” he said.

In addition, the other two courts at Urban and courts at Barranca and Canyon also received upgrades during that time frame. He also said that the court at 36th and Myrtle Streets was worked on in 2002. “We also wound up doing concrete repair,” Kohlrust said. “We did extensive work on those courts.”

He said the work came about when a number of members of the tennis community contacted him regarding the condition of the courts.

Despite what Kohlrust described as extensive work, eight years later, the courts are in need of maintenance once again.

“This is not meant to be a dis of the staff, but we don’t know tennis courts. We go out and patch them,” Johnson said.

She also explained that consultants were brought in to look at the courts and told her that staff had done a good job, but had done the patch work too soon.

She also said that she thinks the strengths in the parks division have been to upgrade the parks, beautify the community and use the skills McIntyre has to do some things.

However, she also said that a regular maintenance plan should be in place for the tennis courts.

The final budget hearing will be held Tuesday at 7 p.m. in council chambers.