Top county stories of the year -- Part 2

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By Arin McKenna

Second of a series

CIP Projects on hold

During the May budget hearings, council approved appropriations for Ashley Pond Park improvements ($2,226,471), golf course improvements ($11,283,800 phased in over four years), a teen center ($4,000,000), ice rink improvements ($1,500,000), a new nature center ($4,300,000), an Eastern Area sound wall ($655,000), extending the Canyon Rim Trail ($500,000) and the White Rock Civic Center ($8,400,000).

Construction is due to begin on Ashley Pond Park in February. The design that council approved after numerous public hearings includes a stage extending over the northeast corner of the pond. A small group of residents who had not participated in conceptual design meetings protested that element of the design.

The Eastern Area sound wall was delayed while the New Mexico Department of Transportation performed a speed study, since reducing speeds was cited as the key element in reducing noise levels in the area. NMDOT has since lowered speeds on N.M. 502.

The county will assess the new sound levels to determine the most effective design for the wall. Public Works Director Philo Shelton anticipates the sound wall will be completed by the end of the 2013 construction season.

Two unexpected revenue losses have put other projects on hold. Los Alamos National Laboratory’s FY2012 gross receipts taxes were $3 million less than anticipated and the county must also reimburse LANL for a GRT overpayment of $3.5 million in FY2011.

The fate of the remaining CIP projects should be decided Jan. 29 at council’s mid-year budget hearing.

Selvage resigns/Reiss steps in

Council Vice Chair Ron Selvage ‘s abrupt resignation in early August rocked the county.  Selvage submitted his letter of resignation shortly after information surfaced regarding an indiscretion with a woman during a September 2011 trip to Sarov, Russia. Selvage was representing the county as part of a cultural exchange sponsored by the Los Alamos Sarov Sister City Initiative.

Council had voted unanimously to give Selvage a second term as vice chair in January.

On Sept. 6, the council appointed Rick Reiss to fulfill the two years remaining in Selvage’s term. Six other candidates vied for the seat: Edward Birnbaum (D), John Bliss (R), Stephen Boerigter (I), Andrea Cunningham (D), Phillip Kunsberg (declined to state party affiliation) and Ralph Phelps (R).

County Administrator Harry Burgess makes his mark

County Administrator Harry Burgess’ first year on the job has made some headlines.
Burgess made his mark during budget hearings in April, when he transformed a contentious debate about proposed full time employee positions by announcing a plan to balance those costs by restructuring two major departments.

Burgess merged the Community Development Department with the Capital Projects and Facilities Department, creating the Community and Economic Development Department. He named Anne Laurent the director.

Burgess also announced that Steve Lynne and Brian Bosshardt would fill two deputy county administrator positions. Lynne and Laurent had been serving as acting assistant county administrators and Bosshardt was promoted from assistant to the county administrator.

In another budget saving measure, Lynne also retained his role as administrative services director/chief financial officer.
In 2011, the county administrator and nine other key positions all had “acting” before their title. It took Burgess until June to fill all those positions permanently.

Former library Manager Charlie Kalogeros-Chattan, who served as acting Community Services Director for a year, was appointed to the position permanently. Denise Cassel was also promoted to Human Resources Manager after serving in an “acting” role for over a year.

Philo Shelton was hired as public works director and council approved the appointment of Rebecca Ehler as county attorney.

Burgess called the new leadership lineup “a very cohesive team,” and said that citizens who interact regularly with various departments have recognized a positive change in the interaction between employees and their ability to work together.

Los Alamos Plaza/Los Alamos Lodge revert to creditors

Plans for a development called Los Alamos Plaza, slated for a prime parcel on Trinity Drive, gasped its last breath this year and the property reverted to the investors.

The development planned by Los Alamos Plaza, LLC and managing member Candles Delight, LLC was to include three 60,000-square-foot structures, each with retail space, office space and luxury penthouses, as well as a fourth unit with townhouses overlooking Los Alamos Canyon.

After a long saga of lawsuits, judgments, stipulated settlements and bankruptcy proceedings, First Judicial District Judge Barbara Vigil ruled in favor of Los Alamos Investors, LLC and allowed them to take control of the property.

It also came to light that one of the principals in the development project, Hildegard Merrill, of Candles Delight, LLC, and had a history punctuated by lawsuits and dubious business practices.

Merrill broker’s license was revoked by the California Department of Real Estate in 1996 for violations ranging from unlawful employment or payment of compensation to trust account withdrawals by an unauthorized or unbonded person.

Two lawsuits involving fraud and breach of fiduciary duty went against Merrill. She also lost her appeals in those cases, as well as well as two appeals to have her real estate license reinstated. One case was so extreme it has been used as a case study for real estate schools and in articles on real estate law.

Realtor Denise Lane is currently marketing the property for Los Alamos Investors LLC, which is listed for sale at $3 million.

White Rock Visitor Center opens

The ribbon cutting for the new White Rock Visitor Center and improvements to N.M. 4 drew a large crowd Sept. 28.

The cost for the 3,281-square-foot facility came in at $3,324,897. The N.M.4 improvements came in at $6,886,735.

The visitor center had a major hiccup when site development overruns and two cost estimate errors added an additional $1,127,697 to the project. The Los Alamos County Council narrowly approved the additional costs.

Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce Member Services Coordinator Katy Korkos reported that October visitation at the new facility was 8,172. Visitation at the temporary visitor center in October 2011 was approximately 3,000.

Another triumph for White Rock was being ranked 16th out of 11,000 United States suburbs in Coldwell Banker Real Estate’s “Best Places to Live for Suburbanites.”