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LA County Council passes $188M budget

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The Los Alamos County Council passed the proposed budget for fiscal year 2019 in the amount of $188,838,880 Tuesday following two nights of departmental budget hearings.

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The budget, which was arrived at under a flat budget moratorium by County Manager Harry Burgess, will be submitted to the state prior to the June 1 deadline, and will then be adjusted either up or down depending on the outcome of the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s contract status. The outcome of the lab’s bid won’t be made public for at least a couple of months.

Should the contract come back putting LANL in the for-profit category, the council would start considering budget options, or add backs, submitted by each department.

“Although flat budgets are easy to listen to and easy to approve, I think we’d all rather be fighting over a list of add backs at this point,” said Councilor Antonio Maggiore. “So I look forward to the contract getting resolved and being able to hack this out in the true, usual fashion and get a little more for the community.”

But should the contract outcome be not-for-profit, the councilors would then have to look for cuts in the budget.

“I think it’s really important that we remember that this is the first step and that our community remembers that,” said Councilman James Chrobocinski. “We can’t make good decisions tonight because we don’t know what the future holds.

We have to find out what happens with the lab contract. About 60 percent of our general fund budget could be affected by that … we could be having a very difficult conversation here in the near future where we’re having to really slash budgets and where it could be a really difficult thing for everybody.”

He added, “This is what we’re faced with right now and we need to really keep that in mind. We have a lot of work left to do once we know what happens with LANL.”

The budget passed by a 6-0 margin. Councilors present for the vote were Council Chair David Izraelevitz, Pete Sheehey, Rick Reiss, Susan O’Leary, Maggiore and Chrobocinski.

Councilor Christine Chandler was present for the start of the meeting, but excused herself due to illness near the end and wasn’t present at the time of the vote.

After hearing proposed budgets from a dozen departments on Monday night, the council continued the hearings Tuesday night with presentations from community development, public works and utilities.

The budget presented by community development passed by a 6-1 margin, with Chrobocinski the lone dissenting vote. The budgets for public works and utilities were tentatively approved by unanimous votes.

The hearings closed with an update on capital improvement and information technology projects and their relationship to the budget with the council then taking its final vote.

“I appreciate the presentation,” said Izraelevitz. “I think every year we do it a little bit better. I also want to thank my fellow councilors for their careful review of this. It’s not as exciting as people might think, looking at over 500 pages worth of spreadsheets, but it’s an important process.”

Maggiore said the staff did “a fantastic job as always” in putting together and presenting the budget, adding, “It’s amazing the amount of work that goes into it.”

O’Leary thanked the staff for “another great budget presentation” as well as “everybody in every department that worked hard to squeeze and try to meet the budget goal of a flat budget.” She added, “It’s a hard thing to do, especially when costs are going up.”

And Reiss said he couldn’t wait to “get back to managing whatever comes to us in June or July when we can better analyze what our revenues will be.”