BY LISA SHIN
On May 23, 2017, five recreation projects were put together in a package and voters were asked to let Los Alamos County Council pass a $20 million general obligation Rec bond to build them. Before the Election, Councilors told citizens that it was an “all or nothing” proposal. They said that if the Rec bond was voted down, then CIP funds would be used towards non-recreation projects. Right after the election, Councilors changed their story, and said that we had $13.9 million in CIP funds to spend on recreation projects. Now, we finally learn the truth: the Rec Bond Election was a “bait and switch” tactic. They were really after the $20 million recreation center. Even though we had more than $10 million in the budget to pay for the other projects, they had to include those to get citizens to vote for the $20 million recreation center.
Tax payer funded elections should be clear “YES” or “NO” questions, not subject to bait and switch schemes. Citizens should clearly understand what Council’s specific actions will be, given a “YES” or “NO” election result. The Council should have just put the $20 million recreation center up for a citizens vote, and not included the other four projects.
Tax payer funded elections should also not be subject to interpretations. Right after the election, the Council interpreted the election results to mean “citizens wanted the projects, but not the taxes.” Now the Council interprets the election results to mean “citizens wanted the projects, but with the new Lab contract looming, said NO…they turned it down.” Our Councilors are ignoring the vote of those citizens, who wanted neither the property tax hikes or the projects, regardless of the LANL GRT situation.
The truth is that the ReC Bond was too aggressive and asked too much from the tax payers. It would have cost a whopping $32 million initially, then several million per year in new operations and maintenance. Our local government needs to take care of existing infrastructure, which is falling apart, before building new things. Focus on serious problems, like terrible roads, vacant commercial properties, and rising crime. Stop blowing our tax dollars! County paid $560K for a “study” on 5-7 recreation projects. Then paid another $509K for a “study” on just the expanded kiddie pool. The $720K splash pad should cost around $200K; the $5.8 million kiddie pool should cost no more than $2 million!
Moving forward, our State Legislature must clarify the laws governing bond elections. If our tax dollars are to be used to fund a bond election, then information from both advocates and opponents should be distributed. Both “FOR” and “AGAINST” statements should be included on the ballot.
In the Rec Bond election, our tax dollars paid for those cheerful Rec Bond mailers. Our tax dollars paid for the communication system used for pro-Rec Bond PAC activities. Our tax dollars paid for the Farmer’s Market booth that Councilors used for pro-Rec Bond PAC activities. Our tax dollars paid for pro-Rec Bond announcements displayed at the municipal building. We must do more to prevent such unethical and questionable activities for future bond initiatives. We must hold our County and our Councilors accountable.
In districts across our state and the nation, the community comes together and celebrates opportunities to invest in the future. New friendships, not enemies, are made for the sake of the kids. There should be unity, not division, when it comes to improving the health and well-being of citizens.
Instead, the Rec Bond became political, personal, and vicious, pitting citizens against each other. Relationships have been permanently severed as a result. It is regrettable, and it was avoidable.
Moving forward, our County Council should take on projects that can be utilized by a large percentage of the public and have broad support. Look what Hobbs, New Mexico, did to build their CORE, center of recreational excellence. “This amazing combination of public and private partners, combined to build the CORE paying cash with no debt being passed on to the citizens of Hobbs and Lea County for the construction of the CORE. The Hobbs Municipal Schools, New Mexico Junior College and the City of Hobbs are all co-owners of the facility with the City of Hobbs being solely responsible for the operation of the CORE. These partners along with the J. F Maddox Foundation, Lea County and the University of the Southwest have created a facility that will improve the Quality of Life in Hobbs and Lea County and benefit thousands of people for decades to come.”
In a town as wealthy and highly educated as Los Alamos, you can’t tell me that we couldn’t work towards such a goal. It would be truly something worth rejoicing over!