County calls for flat budget in tense times

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By Tris DeRoma

County Manager Harry Burgess suggested to the Los Alamos County Council Tuesday they adopt a flat budget for fiscal year 2019, in light of the impending contract transition at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

With the New Mexico Legislature still not indicating any movement toward passing a bill this session to require non-profits to pay gross receipts taxes, Burgess recommended to council to consider a conservative approach with the budget, until they know more.

At present, with the management and operations contract being managed by the Los Alamos National Security, a for-profit entity, the county, and the state receives millions of dollars in proceeds from the lab’s gross receipts taxes every year.

“I would suggest that it be a flat budget, and once we have final knowledge of where the contract’s going we would then schedule some subsequent budget meetings to address the outcome of that… either utilizing that add back list or embarking on a more problematic course of trying to reduce our budget,” Burgess said.  

The county’s work on the fiscal year 2019 budget began in September.

County officials are expecting to hear about whom won the next $2 billion management and operations contract starting in April.

The county must submit a budget to the state by June 1, but it also has until July 31 to make changes.

If it is a non-profit that wins the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s management and operations contract, then the county may have to meet again to make cuts. If it were a for-profit, it would consider add-ons requested by the county.

Burgess said he’s directed his staff and his departments to not make any significant changes to the budget.

“In the past, we’ve reduced certain line items in order to enhance others. I’ve asked people not to do any of that until we get to the point until we know what direction the contract is going to go,” Burgess said to council.

Councilor Susan O’Leary suggested following the procedures council did in 2016 when council was presented with a basic budget and an add on list. She said it would be a more efficient and save time to make priorities in April, rather than wait a month or two.

“It’s better to go through the add back list in April like we did in 2016 and make decisions on those items then, so that when the contract is resolved, and assuming it’s resolved favorably for us, your staff knows what’s been approved and is able to move faster than what might happen under the scenario you’re proposing, where we would then have another budget meeting, where it would then take you guys a couple of months… I’m just wondering about a timing standpoint,” O’Leary said. “We’re here wanting to take advantage of opportunities that benefit our community and I worry about whether or not it’s better for us to just go through that process in April and make those decisions rather than wait.”

Council ultimately decided to follow Burgess’ advice.

“We’re not going to be discussing add on items in April,” Councilor Chrobocinski said. “The county will present us with a potential add-on list to add on to the flat budget, but we’re not going to consider that until after the contractor is known.”