Morrison brings practicality to county council race

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By Bennett Horne

Tim Morrison is a big fan of Los Alamos and has been since moving with his family from Idaho to the Secret City when he was 5 years old.

“It is a nice community. It’s a safe place,” he said. “It’s got good amenities and good access to nature. It’s friendly and it’s fun.”

But Morrison, 40, has seen some negative trends within Los Alamos County over the years, trends he hopes to reverse as a member of the county council.

“The reason I decided to run for county council is because the business community in Los Alamos is smaller than it was 40 years ago, and I think that’s a fixable problem,” he said. “Back then we weren’t getting as much tax revenue because of the lab and there were more businesses. I think we’re just not working at the right things.”

Morrison, who is running as a Democrat, is a graduate of Los Alamos High School and then the University of New Mexico. He currently is the general manager of the Los Alamos Co-op. He previously worked at La Montañita Coop in Albuquerque before coming back to Los Alamos in 2011 as the front-end manager for the co-op.

Near the end of 2014 he moved overseas for about a year, returning to Los Alamos to help the co-op.

“The co-op got into trouble while I was away so I came back to help get things straightened out,” he said. “We’re on the mend now and doing really, really well.”

Morrison believes his managerial experience would be beneficial if he gets elected to the council.

“As the general manager I report to a board and I have members and staff and I have to try to keep all of them happy, even when they want different things, and make the business successful,” he said. “I’m responsible for running a community project and I think I do a pretty good job of it. The numbers are up and we’ve been making money the last two years.”

Because of his involvement with the opening of the co-op, Morrison said he’s familiar with another of the county’s negative trends.

“I’d like to streamline the process of opening a business,” he said. “When we opened this business there was a checklist of things to do, and when you got through that list there were more things to do.

“When you decide to start, but you haven’t actually opened the doors yet, you’re losing money and that’s a trying period,” he continued. “Business owners have hurdles to jump through and when they get through them, then there’s more they have to jump through and then more before they can open.”

Morrison said there’s a risk associated with opening a business, and burning through cash in the beginning “doesn’t encourage anyone.”

Another trend Morrison hopes to be able to tackle if elected to the council is that of empty commercial real estate properties in the county. His idea is to charge property owners a fee based on days the parcel remains unoccupied.

“We have a bunch of commercial real estate that’s vacant and I’d like to charge a fee on vacant commercial real estate,” he said. “If it’s vacant for six months you pay a certain amount per square foot and if it’s vacant for a year you pay two times that amount per square foot. We need to create an incentive to get it rented, to fix it up, to lower the rent or to sell it to somebody who’s interested in it rather than keeping it as a tax write-off.”

He added that “cheaper commercial real estate” would equate to “more small businesses” which, in turn, could mean fewer corporate chains and more money staying in Los Alamos.

“I’d like to see local, startup small businesses, or local businesses partnering together and doing co-ops like this one, rather than corporate chains coming in and have all the money go off the Hill,” he said. “There’s money here. It’s an affluent community that wants access to these resources. I think energy costs are going up so it’s going to be more expensive to drive to Santa Fe. That’s all generically positive for businesses in Los Alamos, there just needs to be enough of them here so people can think they can shop here rather than needing to go off the Hill to get something done.

“We had that critical density before and can again,” he added.

Morrison, who some might consider to be relatively young to be running for county council, said he believes he would fill a demographic that’s missing from the current council.

“I think the county council is over-represented by some demographics,” he said. “There are a lot of retirees and people whose careers allow them a great deal of flexibility to attend meetings and do the reading and the research. People with regular 9-5 jobs, or who own a business, are going to be hard pressed to have the time to do that – or the flexibility.”

He noted, “The people who are on the county council, it’s important that they’re part of the community, too, but I’m displeased with the demographics that are excluded.”

Besides filling that demographic, Morrison said his presence would bring an added boost of practicality to the council.

One topic he’s heard a lot about deals with the issue of the county’s code enforcement.

“Recently people have been unhappy with the ordinance violations and code enforcement,” he said. “The number of citations has increased a lot recently and that’s making people very unhappy. I think (the enforcement) is a little overdone. I think code enforcement didn’t come in until 2014 and the idea behind nuisance violations is really about safety and it’s gotten to be about monitoring aesthetics; a mandatory ‘keeping up with the Joneses.’ I really don’t think the county has any business doing that. I would like to dial it back to just be about safety.”

Another hot topic is that of affordable housing.

“There’s no housing in the county,” Morrison said. “It’s very, very tight, and there are reasons for that. The population hasn’t changed, but the average number of people in a house is smaller.”

One option Morrison said he would like to see pursued is construction of tiny homes.

“I think what we need to do is build small houses and apartments, not open up lands for developers to make a profit off of, but commission a developer to build tiny homes that won’t go on the market for more than $80,000,” he said. “(The houses that are scheduled to be built now) are going to be higher-end houses that will go to people who already can afford to live in this community, or who just got a well-paying lab job. I would like to see pressure relieved on the low end for students, service people, teachers, nurses, police officers who don’t make those sort of salaries and who would be hard pressed to make rent payment or a mortgage in this town.”

He knows it’s a process that doesn’t just pop up. It has to be done on purpose.

“You have to do it deliberately,” he said. “You have to figure out what you want, and then commission and build exactly what you want. We want these high-density, small houses that, even if the owner re-sells them, nobody’s going to pay more than $80,000 for it because it is really that small so that you could afford to buy it.”

Morrison has said throughout his campaign that he is approachable. And as the democratic primary draws closer, he wants to make sure the residents of Los Alamos County know that when they speak, he will listen.

“In a race like this there are two elements,” he said. “There’s the platform you have that says, ‘I represent this and vote for me for these issues.’ The other part is that you’re a representative for the constituency. There are some things I care about, but I know I’m also supposed to do the people’s bidding. So come talk to me. I’m easy to talk to.”