BY MAIRE O’NEILL
The proposed Los Alamos County Budget to be presented to the County Council Monday evening shows an anticipated reduction in gross receipts tax income of approximately $1.5 million in both FY2020 and FY2021, or approximately 3 percent, Budget and Performance Manager Karen Kendall told local media last week.
Kendall said the only change in expenditures is that the County received a capital appropriation through the legislature for $350,000 and has to budget that amount once the appropriation has been signed by the governor.
Kendall noted that the budget was prepared pre-pandemic and the staff’s budget guidance was to include the 3 percent salary increase, 10 percent for the increase in medical premiums paid by the County and beyond that the expenditures were flat except for anything that was already contractually obligated.
Kendall said that looking at the total budget, it is higher than the prior adopted budget for a couple of reasons. First of all, she said, there’s $14.8 million for the White Rock Wastewater Treatment Plant. The budget also reflects a similar amount in revenue because a loan was received from the state for the building of the Plant.
Additionally Kendall said the Department of Public Utilities has an additional $6.8 million in water projects that also has state grant funding. She said overall Utilities was up by $21.9 million but the bulk of that is for the WRWTP and the additional water projects.
Kendall noted that the County has reserves of some $14 million above the unassigned target, which is very healthy. Council can consider that $14 million for the budget options that are being proposed within the general fund.
“The budget was prepared pre-pandemic. We were conservative in our preparation and our forecast and met the goals the Council asked for while setting the priorities that they want to see funded,” she said.
County Chief Financial Officer Helen Perraglio said that other than the format in which the actual budget hearings will be conducted, the proposed budget is pretty much as standard as it comes.
“The only significant piece directly related to COVID-19 will show up in a budget option and that will be the funds we want to have available to spend for any other efforts that are unforeseen,” she said, adding that current spending on items such as personal protective equipment is within the current budget.
Kendall said the budget has a $500,000 placeholder which is the County’s share if there was a FEMA claim due to COVID-19 but that there is no estimate at this time as to what that amount might be. Given what’s going on with COVID-19, she said there are some projects that have been planned for FY2020 or FY2021 that may end up having to have an extended timeline. She noted that if those changes occur, the County will provide information for the public and if a project is moved from FY2020 to FY2021, that action will come before Council for approval.
Kendall noted that because Los Alamos County was so far along in developing its budget, it was decided to use it because there are a number of projects like the WRWTP that the County wanted to move forward with. Some other counties will be using their prior year’s budget.
The overall County proposed FY2021 expenditures are $226.9 million as compared to FY2020 adopted expenditures of $199.6 million. Overall County revenues are $231.9 million as compared to FY2020 adopted revenues of $202.9 million.
County Manager Harry Burgess noted in a conclusion statement in the proposed budget document, that the County is taking proactive steps to keep its workforce as safe as possible and building up some reserves in the event employees become ill, given the impact of the COVID-19 virus on local communities.
“Our goal is to move to a ‘skeleton crew’ to keep providing a base level of services that our community needs during this critical health crisis, while keeping our employees safe and reducing the spread of germs that can occur with face to face transactions. As always, providing top-notch service is our number one priority. We work for you, the residents of Los Alamos County,” Burgess said.
He said based upon collaborative efforts and employee involvement from each and every department, he is pleased to present the proposed FY2021 budget that continues to support the County Council’s strategic focus.
“Los Alamos County strives to provide excellent service to our citizens. Our success would not be possible without the dedication, commitment to excellent customer service, and professionalism of County employees. They truly are the backbone that makes this an organization of excellence,” Burgess said. He also thanked Council for their commitment, leadership and guidance.
The budget hearings have been set for set for:
- Monday, April 20
- Tuesday, April 21
- Monday, April 27
- Tuesday, April 28
Scheduled hearings may be canceled if the budget is adopted an an earlier hearing.
All hearings begin at 6:00 p.m. in Council Chambers. The format will be the same format used for the March 31 and April 7 Council meetings, which complies with the public emergency order governing mass gathering because of COVID-19. The public will not be allowed to attend in person and only minimal County staff will attend in person to present their proposed budget items. All Councilors will participate via Zoom.
Members of the public can view the agenda/supporting documents and live stream the budget hearings from home using the link below:
The hearings will also be broadcast live on cable television on PAC-8, the local community station.
Public comment may be submitted to Council in two ways:
- Mail comments to County Manager Harry Burgess, 1000 Central Avenue, Ste 350, Los Alamos, NM 87544
- E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org in advance and include the words “Public Comment” in the subject line.