Sheehey: Setting Infrastructure Priorities, Community Needs And Wants

Sheehey photo.jpg

Vice Chair
Los Alamos County Council

I will be hosting a Town Hall meeting with Councilors Katrina Schmidt and James Robinson on Wednesday, April 10 at 5:30 p.m. in Council Chambers.  We want to discuss with the community two of the seven priorities in the 2019 Strategic Leadership Plan:

  • Protecting, maintaining and improving our open spaces, recreational, and cultural amenities. 
  • Investing in infrastructure. 

Most of us would consider it a basic community need that our county utilities, roads, and facilities will be functional and well maintained.  A major part of the budget goes to staffing for that purpose, and for larger projects, contracted work.

We are fortunate that we can also afford to build and operate cultural and recreational amenities to enhance the quality of life.  These community wants also require staffing and maintenance.

At the Town Hall, we want to hear what your highest priorities are for infrastructure and amenities.  I’d like to hear your feedback on some of the following ideas.

More than once, I’ve heard from a citizen “The County wants to spend millions on recreational projects, and my sewer backs up every year?”  Clearly, we should finance needs first (such as functional sewers), amenities second.

We can’t just take all the money collected by the county and put it into a list of the most important needs and wants.  The County Charter requires utilities to be funded largely from utility rates.  That is the reason rates have been increasing in recent years: major projects like replacing the White Rock Sewage Treatment plant were not adequately covered by previous utility rates.

The County general fund receives a small 5 percent “profit” from electric and gas retail sales, less than a million dollars per year, substantially less than private utility operators would take.  If the County returned all or part of that profit to the utility department, it would help keep utility rates down, but would certainly not cover all the infrastructure spending necessary. I believe some County general funds should be spent to bring old utility infrastructure, which was never properly built, up to modern standards (sewer and water lines in particular).  In the long run, this would enhance everyone’s property values, and save the County money spent on damage claims.

Other infrastructure work, such as road maintenance, is covered directly from tax revenues.  This year we will be spending more than usual repairing winter road damage. County staff is very good at obtaining grants to help with these expenses, such as from FEMA.  We are fortunate to have many volunteers to help with needs like trails maintenance, but extra paid staff and equipment would keep our trails network in better condition.

The County spends money in the Progress through Partnering program to help with regional needs, such as the NCRTD, and economic development.  We benefit from the presence of Los Alamos National Laboratory and the taxes it pays. It is the right thing to do to share those benefits with our neighbors, who share the impact of LANL in their communities.

Most years, after taking care of the most pressing needs, there is money available to put into wants such as recreational projects.  Four projects (splash pad, ice rink locker rooms, golf course irrigation, multi-generational pool added to aquatic center), for which we already have the money, have been delayed for the last two years while we were uncertain about the continuation of LANL GRT payments.  Now that we are confident about GRT revenues, I believe we should start work on these projects.

My support for these four projects (and others) was based upon a few principles: take care of existing facilities (e.g. ice rink, golf course) before adding new facilities; make facilities usable by the broadest set of users (e.g. multi-generational pool); consider carefully sustainability and added operational expenses of new facilities (e.g. splash pad water recycling system).

I’d like to hear your thoughts on these ideas, and how you feel about balancing the priorities of infrastructure and amenities in Los Alamos.  Come to the Town Hall April 10, or e-mail us at