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Letters to the Editor 12-22-17

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A bit of nit picking

Dear Editor,
I think that the term “windfall” is not appropriate to describe the gross receipts taxes paid by LANL contractors. Merriam-Webster defines “windfall” as:

• Something (such as a tree or fruit) blown down by the wind;

• An unexpected, unearned, or sudden gain or advantage.

The term is not correct for two reasons. First, the term refers to a “one-time” event. Once all the apples are off the tree you can expect no more apples to fall. The citizens of Los Alamos should expect that LANL contractors will continue paying gross receipts taxes. Second, the term “unearned” does not apply to the taxes paid by LANL contractors. In the ‘70s, the legislature “reformed” the tax structure in New Mexico. In general, funding for basic governmental services (roads, police, fire, recreation, etc.) went from property taxes to gross receipts taxes (mostly from retail sales). In general, property taxes were to fund capital improvements.

The high percentage of Los Alamos residents working for LANL, and not involved in retail, skewed the funding base for Los Alamos. Fortunately, in those days, the DOE compensated via the “Assistance Payments” to the county. Those “Assistance Payments” are now a thing of the past and it is altogether fitting and just that LANL contractors compensate the county for the impact their workers have on the provision of governmental services.

In fact, there was a “windfall” to the county in the ‘80s when we received about $5 million in back gross receipts taxes owed by the former Zia Company.

My fellow councilor, Sid Singer, deserves credit for pursing those monies. We were able to build the swimming pool without having to increase property taxes.

My hat goes off the County Manager Harry Burgess and his team for the prudent use of the $25 Million annual increase in county revenues once LANS came into being. Despite the doubling of county revenues there was no dramatic increase in personnel costs. The “new” money went into new buildings, road improvements and infrastructure upgrades. Now, having completed those capital projects, one might hope that the gross receipts tax rate might be lowered when the new contract takes effect.

A final note, dire circumstances were predicted come “taxing the lab.” The lab’s major challenge was not paying the justified taxes, but not understanding the distinction between the terms “inorganic” and “an organic.”

Morris Pongratz
Former County Councilor

Wreaths at Guaje Pines were lovely, appreciated

Dear Editor,

Thanks to whoever arranged to have wreaths placed at the burial sites of veterans at Guaje Pines. A lovely thing to do and much appreciated.

Leta Harlow
White Rock

My Last County Council Meeting

Dear Editor,

I attended last Friday’s Council meeting because the construction of a bicycle flow trail in Bayo Canyon was on the agenda. I have followed the progress of the flow trail proposal, have attended the public meetings sponsored by the Parks and Recreation Department, and have voiced my opposition to the construction of a flow trail in any of our canyons in my letter to the LA Daily Post. The original proposal for a bicycle flow trail came from a small group of people who envisioned a smooth, no obstacle, shallow-pitch trail from the top of the ski hill, through the canyons in town, ending at the sewage plant gate on the hill road, something like 30 miles of trail.

This is not a typical single-track trail like most of what we have in the County, but is more akin to building a small road. With little thought or process, the council “earmarked” $500,000 for this project, with $50,000 of this to go toward the construction of a pilot project in Bayo Canyon starting at the roundabout. Not surprisingly, when the pilot project was bid, the single bid came in at $500,000 just for the eight-mile Bayo Canyon segment.

While this bid may have been unrealistic, a trail-building professional (who built the bike trails at Angel Fire) at the meeting said that flow trails average about $20,000 a mile. That means that even a reasonable bid would have to be at least $160,000 and probably more, since Bayo Canyon presents some extreme difficulties for trail-building.

A county staff member summarized three public meetings regarding the flow trail over the past year. He listed the difficulties presented in putting a flow trail through Bayo Canyon, and reported the public consensus at all three meetings, which was for no flow trail in any of our canyons, but possibly a flow trail on the ski hill. After the staff member sat down, it was as if he had not said a word.

There was no discussion by the council on these difficulties and objections to the flow trail, and the large majority of the council continued to discuss the Bayo Canyon flow trail as if it were a great idea. When, after four and a half hours of waiting, it came time for public comments, the Council Chair gave precedence to the main proponent of the trail, allowing him to speak first with unlimited time.

The rest of the public wishing to comment had to stand in line and were strictly limited to three minutes.

After the public comments, some of the council treated themselves to further comments in support of the trail. Council Chair David Izraelevitz said something to the effect that the Council needed to get this project done to show the public that they can accomplish something. Well, Mr. Izraelevitz, the council has already shown the public they can get something done. Unfortunately, many of these projects were expensive, overblown, and something that the general public neither wants nor needs. Councilor Susan O’Leary chimed in to say that she couldn’t see anything wrong with building this trail for the handful of bicyclists who will use it. Well, Ms. O’Leary, there are any number of things wrong with it. It is wrong to spend our taxpayer money for the benefit of a small special interest group, ignoring the objections of the public.

It is wrong to plow a single-user trail through our canyon. The Los Alamos trails have traditionally been multi-user trails. Hikers, equestrians, even bicyclists who want to get some exercise by riding uphill – all will be banned from the flow trail. It is wrong to ignore the probable effects on the environment, historic sites, and the quality of life of the people who live near Bayo Canyon and those who use the existing trails.

Los Alamos already has an amazing system of trails. True, they are poorly maintained, poorly signed, and poorly promoted because the county won’t spend any money on them. Imagine what could be done to improve our existing trails if the $500,000 were put into maintenance, improvements and signage on existing trails instead of building an expensive new trail which, if experience proves true, will also be poorly maintained.

If the council chooses to ignore public input and cater to the whims of a small but vocal special-interest group, what is the point of public meetings? That’s why Friday’s Council meeting was the last County-sponsored public meeting I will attend.

Bruce Warren
Los Alamos