Regional Coalition of LANL Communities Eric Vasquez. left, presents the FY2020 budget at the RCLC’s June 7 meeting in Espanola. Also pictured is Los Alamos County Councilor Randy Ryti who is the Los Alamos alternate member on the board. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
With less than a month left in the current fiscal year, Regional Coalition of LANL Communities executive director Eric Vasquez presented board members meeting in Espanola June 7 with an updated budget that does not reflect the annual grant of $100,000 from the Department of Energy for this year.
The updated actual budget for FY2019 presented by Vasquez shows actual income of $60,000 from Los Alamos County and $5,000 from the City of Espanola for the current fiscal year. He mentioned that he had just received a check from the Town of Taos which presumably was for $3,500 as reflected in the adopted FY2019 budget.
The budget for FY2020 presented by Vasquez shows $183,572.18 for the contract with Chicanos Por La Causa New Mexico (CPLC), $2,000 for out of state travel and $1,000 for local travel. $6,820 is included for attorney and accounting services as well as $7,500 for meeting facilitation and consulting services. Printing is included at $1,000, postage at $1,000 and membership of the Energy Communities Alliance and conference registration fees at $1,700.
Vasquez told board members all the expenses have been kept the same as much as possible. He said the management contract is identical to what was agreed upon in 2018.
“We have reduced travel about $2,000. Contractual services are the area where we see the largest growth because we have opted to contract our accounting services and the contract for the annual audit so those are two new expenses we had not had the previous years. We are also talking about contracting for legal services. In addition based on recommendations from Councilor Peter Ives – he is recommending that we set aside some resources to have community meetings to talk about different things. If you remember in January we had our retreat and we had talked about making that an annual strategic planning session so we budgeted for that, then possibly two other study sessions throughout the year at Councilor Ives’ recommendation,” he said.
“In addition, keep in mind that part of our funding in the past has come from a (Department of Energy Environmental Management) grant. We are believing that in the future that grant will be restored but because of the situation around the investigation in the past, we believe we will not be receiving the grant for this year. We will not have those resources. We are not budgeting for those resources,” Vasquez said. “We do have a surplus that we have been rolling on for quite a while so we can survive that way for a few years if necessary but it’s still something to keep in mind. We believe from our conversations and I can go into that in more detail when I go into our report on the (Washington,) DC trip, that that grant will be restored eventually.”
Under the director report item on the agenda, Vasquez gave an update on the trip to Washington, DC, including accounts of meetings RCLC board members attended. One of the meetings addressed was when “RCLC board members and staff met with DOE-EM Principal Deputy Assistant Mark Gilbertson and several key EM staff.” Vasquez’s report reads, “Board members discussed current concerns on the impact of legacy waste cleanup, as well as the RCLC’s grant status and ongoing accountability efforts.”
There was no discussion by board members of the status or the possible effect that not receiving the DOE funds would have on the RCLC. The Los Alamos Reporter later contacted three board members and a staff member for Los Alamos County which is presently the fiscal agent for the RCLC, but nobody was able to confirm when and how the RCLC was notified by DOE that the $100,000 grant would not be issued this current fiscal year.
In an email to Vasquez, the Los Alamos Reporter asked when and how the RCLC board was notified about the grant status.
“We were not formally notified, but in discussions with a number of people it became clear that this year, as the IG investigation is ongoing the grant will probably not be awarded,” Vasquez responded. He did not say with whom the discussions were held.
Asked to elaborate on the discussion with Gilbertson mentioned in his report, Vasquez responded, “We did not discuss the grant status with Mr. Gilbertson but rather discussed past and future interactions of the RCLC with DOE and ways we can move forward in working together to ensure that our communities have a seat at the table. The grant was never mentioned.”
Under a separate item on his director’s report, Vasquez discussed the status of the audit being performed by Kubiak Melton & Associates under contract with the RCLC which was supposed to be completed by May 31. At the April 26 meeting, Vasquez reported that the commencement of the audits was delayed because of a misunderstanding at the Office of State Auditor that “resulted in them not issuing approvals for all six years that are to be audited”. He said approval letters had been issued and that Kubiak Melton was scheduled to meet with Los Alamos County May 13 to begin collecting all necessary data.
“Los Alamos County staff and I have reviewed the IPA’s requests for financial records and data and find that they largely mirror what the OSA asked for last year during the special audit. This means that the process should be fairly smooth and quick as that information has already been collected,” Vasquez said at that meeting.
At the June 7 meeting Vasquez gave another update on the audit.
“You may remember the column published by Milan Simonich in the New Mexican in early May which led to questioning the status of the RCLC and its auditing process from the audit that had occurred last year. Subsequent to that, members of this board met with the Office of the State Auditor – Councilor Peter Ives, Mayor Javier Sanchez, myself, Henry Roybal by phone,” he said.
Vasquez told the board the OSA is “satisfied with everything thus far”.
“They trust our contract accountant. They are satisfied with the Tier 4 status that we had selected for our organization but they did want to make the caviat that as they are examining this, as this is going on they may request that specific years or accounts have more robust accounting or Tier 7 level for certain sections. As you are all aware, Tier 7 is basically a full-on forensic audit in those areas. If that was to occur, it would require us to revisit the contract we have with our auditor because that would be more expensive than what we are currently contracted to do. But I don’t believe it would be prohibitively expensive. Because of that, in our conversations with the auditor, we basically originally had been planning to have the results of the audit by the end of the fiscal year, based on the conversations with the OSA we’re now looking at the end of July,” Vasquez said.
Although his written report to the board indicates that in discussions with State Auditor Brian Colon it was decided “that if the OSA observes any conditions that warrant additional scrutiny, they may request that specific years or accounts be audited at the more rigorous Tier 7 level,” there appears to have been no formal request for the Tier 7 level. The results of the audit are currently a month behind schedule.
Although the RCLC website lists nine communities as members, there has been no representation from the County of Taos, Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo or Jemez Pueblo for several months. The meeting minutes list those members as excused. Several meetings have been canceled and rescheduled. Board members and members of the public have requested that the meetings be held throughout the member communities however all but one meeting has been held in Espanola at City Hall in the past year. The meeting schedule on the RCLC website indicates the next several meetings are scheduled to be held also in Espanola. Public participation in the meetings in recent months has been sparse, with often just presenters of agenda items such as DOE-EM and N3B in the audience along with two members of the press from Los Alamos and one or two Nuclear Watch representatives.
The revised Joint Powers Agreement was sent to the member communities in March for approval but to date most communities have not signed it. Invoices for current fiscal year which began July 1, 2018, were sent to the communities in April but as of the June 7 meeting, only three communities have contributed.