Los Alamos County Councilor David Izraelevitz, far right, introduces his proposal at Tuesday’s County Council meeting in White Rock. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos County Council, meeting Tuesday evening in White Rock, discussed a proposed new initiative to support regional capital project development as part of the Progress Through Partnering Program.
According to a proposal put forward by Councilor David Izraelevitz, who is the also the Council’s representative on the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities (RCLC) board, the purpose of establishing the fund would be to expand the positive, permanent impact of Los Alamos County as a good neighbor to surrounding communities and to promote communication, interaction and collaboration in the region.
The initiative would be funded by yearly contributions from the County General Fund, most of which would be managed with a long-term investment strategy, and income from the fund would be allocated to members of the RCLC for local capital projects as determined and reviewed by the RCLC board.
While introducing the agenda item, Council Chair Sara Scott said one of the needs the County’s regional partners had expressed when speaking with them last year was a fund that would help with capital outlay for projects that would have significant and long-term impacts for them.
Giving some background on the Progress Through Partnering Fund, County Manager Harry Burgess first said it was originally initiated around 2008 when it became apparent that the County was going to have an increase in gross receipts tax (GRT) collection.
“There was also some conversation at the time amongst our neighbors about how they may legislatively obtain some of that GRT as well and in defense of that conversation that was going on at the time, the County chose to put together a program we now call Progress Through Partnering as a means to basically spread the wealth of some of that GRT that was coming our way in a targeted manner,” Burgess said.
He said the amounts of money the County has put towards this program have varied over the years with the initial amounts being somewhat higher when the programs it funded were in their infancy and required more money. He said generally the Progress Through Partnering fund has been spent on four different programs: Espanola Basin Regional Infrastructure Fund, which he said was a short-lived fund that was used to try and incentivize certain infrastructure needs around the region. There were very few requests for funding through that program and it was eventually discontinued.
PTP has also funded the North Central Regional Transit District on an annual and recurring basis including $350,000 this year, as well as some of its capital projects. Funding was also provided for the Regional Economic Development Initiative, which is currently run by the Regional Development Corporation. RDC received $175,000 from the County for the current fiscal year, Burgess said.
The RCLC has also received funding from the County – initially more than $100,000 a year, Burgess said.
“They’ve since obtained some grants and gotten some funding from the other partners in that organization to where we are presently paying $60,000 a year,” he said.
Burgess said additional funds were put into PTP for the current year to try and address some of the more current concerns the County has received. He said there was a similar push during the last legislative session for a memorial to consider how the GRT might be redistributed but it did not pass.
“We did meet with the various mayors and commission chairs and others that were instigating that last year and they expressed a desire for some sort of regional fund that primarily would allow them to initiate capital projects, either design or develop them so that they could then seek out grants to fully fund that program. They also expressed a need for some base funding to get that leverage going that they would not otherwise be able to provide,” Burgess said.
The Council allocated $1.5 million to the PTP fund for the present fiscal year, $635,000 of which was earmarked for the various programs the PTP funds as well as a couple of additions for the 2020 census and conservation activities.
“So we have just under $900,000 that is presently not allocated to things specifically other than the general Progress Through Partnership needs,” Burgess said.
Councilor Izraelevitz said the support the County has provided to the organizations mentioned by Burgess and other support the County has provided has been very valuable in developing relationships that have had other value in the legislature and otherwise.
“I also want to reiterate that a healthier regional economy also helps Los Alamos National Laboratory which is our greatest economic engine because our community cannot support LANL by itself. We don’t have all the resources needed to do that, so the healthier the regional economy we have the better we are in a very positive way,” Izraelevitz said.
He said an important gap in the region is capital investments which form the basis of a better social safety net and better quality of life for all the citizens.
“The idea would be to develop a fund within the County that would be invested similar to the way that our capital permanent is invested through the State Investment Council. The income from that fund would then be passed on to the RCLC as our regional partner and then the RCLC board would determine among the members what would be the best yearly use of those funds for capital projects,” Izraelevitz said.
He noted that the investment would not have much return for the first couple of years, the proposal would be to add some funds to kick-start the program.
“Los Alamos through its participation in the RCLC would take a role in determining the policies for how these funds would be allocated and how the programs might be evaluated to see which ones have the highest return investment or highest value. But we would recuse ourselves from explicitly deciding among the projects in order to make sure there is a regional focus,” Izraelevitz said.
He said portion of the $865,000 that already been set aside for PTP could be used to kick-start the proposed fund.
“The proposal is $500,000 to $1 million a year and that obviously would be at the discretion of current and future Councils, so I would suggest that we have a budget add-on that we would discuss at budget time to decide how much to add or how much the additional increment should be,” Izraelevitz said. “I have had some initial discussions with some individual members of the RCLC board but we haven’t had any kind of formal proposal obviously until we have some concurrence from the board. It would require some formal agreements to make sure that the funds are processed appropriately.”
Councilors discussed their support for the proposal and various details that would need to be worked out including how the fund would be set up and where the money would be invested. The next step will be for the proposal to be brought before the RCLC board to see how it would work.
Councilor Izraelevitz noted that the County would want to discuss with the RCLC board how they would manage the funds internally.
“We would want those to be a separate fund that we would want audited. We would want to make sure that he funds are used for the types of capital investments that we specify. We would want to make sure that there is an equitable and fair process by which these funds are distributed,” he said.
Councilor Scott noted the need for a mechanism to address concerns if outcomes are not deemed by Council or the RCLC as supporting the stated goals that would be built in as well as how a good or satisfactory performance would be defined.
Councilor Izraelevitz said he would like to introduce the proposal at the next RCLC meeting indicating that there is tentative support from the Council so that the discussions can start. He noted that the proposal might be a way to invigorate the economic development side of the RCLC but that he hoped there would be other mechanisms, collaborations and joint proposals.
“Maybe this fund itself could be used where multiple communities come together to do some regional things. I hope this will spark that conversation and if it makes it more interesting and we get more participation, that’s fine,” he said.