Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Mountain Express could be forced to pay building fees

Mt. Crested Butte officials object

Controversy over whether or not the town of Crested Butte should charge Mountain Express building fees for the new bus barn has temporary stalled the project, and Mt. Crested Butte officials say it’s not right.



At a regular meeting on Monday, December 3, the Crested Butte Town Council told Mountain Express board members a decision over whether to waive the fees or not would have to wait until a work session in January.
Mountain Express first requested the Town waive its building fees last month during a town budget meeting. The fees totaling $54,000, include $29,700 for tap fees and $13,478 for the affordable housing fee.
Mountain Express director Chris Larsen asked the Town Council if it would consider waiving the fees because Mountain Express represents a public service.
Town manager Susan Parker said during the budget meeting, it is not normally the Town’s policy to waive fees. She said fees are never actually “waived,” as fiscal policy requires funds to be whole, thus requiring money to be transferred from somewhere to replace the missing revenues that would have been generated by the fees.
The Council discussed possible alternatives to waiving the fees, such as splitting the fees among Mountain Express beneficiaries or using Mountain Express reserve funds to cover the costs. However, the alternatives were not received well, according to Larsen.
Larsen says Mt. Crested Butte was unwilling to split up the fees and recommended Mountain Express readdress the issue with the Crested Butte Town Council.
Danny D’Aquila, Mountain Express board president, did just that during a regular meeting on December 3.
D’Aquila presented the history of the bus barn project, noting it has been in the works for the past six years. He said the Town of Crested Butte initiated the idea and requested Mountain Express build the new facility. Mountain Express experienced some hiccups during the bid process but was finally able to award a bid in September; however, the project has been temporarily delayed, D’Aquila said.
“We hadn’t anticipated fees,” D’Aquila told the council. The fees would be in addition to the project’s estimated cost of $946,000.
D’Aquila said the board questioned Crested Butte’s fee requirements, considering Mt. Crested Butte did not charge impact or building fees during the construction of the new transit center in Mt. Crested Butte.
Mt. Crested Butte “assumed it was our responsibility—our obligation,” D’Aquila said as a Mt. Crested Butte Town Council member. “I am looking for equal consideration from the town of Crested Butte.”
Crested Butte mayor and Mountain Express board member Alan Bernholtz said the decision to charge Mountain Express building fees was a decision each town had to make and not a matter of obligation to the organization.
“Taking on the responsibility for the costs of the transit center—that’s a decision you made,” Bernholtz told D’Aquila.
Town Council member Billy Rankin agreed with Bernholtz that charging fees wasn’t about obligation, but rather about the Town receiving revenues to cover the costs associated with development.
“It’s a matter of dollars and cents and not about hurting Mountain Express,” Rankin said.
The Town Council did agree to waive some of the fees and decrease the amount. However, the council was hesitant to waive the affordable housing fee as Mountain Express employees are eligible for town housing.
D’Aquila said the additional costs would have to come out of Mountain Express’ reserve fund, which he estimates would leave the fund with less than $200,000. He said the board was concerned with draining the reserves because of needed bus repairs and upgrades.
Town Council member Dan Escalante asked how vital the new bus barn was. D’Aquila said it wasn’t needed, but Mountain Express pursued the project at the request of the town.
“We don’t need it. We would rather use the money for upgrading the busses, but we’re happy to do it because it is a win for everyone, and we have the funding,” D’Aquila said.
Bernholtz interjected that the bus barn is needed but further discussion on the fees was necessary before a decision could be made.
“We need to figure out what services are being provided and look at what everyone has given,” Bernholtz said.
The Town Council decided to continue the discussion until January when a work session could be scheduled. In addition to discussing the fees, D’Aquila said Mountain Express and the Town of Crested Butte needed to discuss the pending lease agreement for the new building.
He said Mountain Express was under the impression the lease would end when Mountain Express handed over the new bus barn building to the Town. However, the town has indicated it may still require some payment, D’Aquila said.
“There really shouldn’t be an expense anymore,” D’Aquila said. “If we’ve got to pay some fees, then okay, as long as the lease goes away.”
Bernholtz said the town would keep the lease amount reasonable and at a level to cover the town’s costs associated with the building. D’Aquila said Mountain Express was also concerned the Town may evict Mountain Express in the future if it deemed necessary.
“How long can we stay there until the Town says you’ve got to go—that’s important for me to know before we spend $1 million,” D’Aquila said.
Parker said she hadn’t reviewed the lease agreement as of yet, but could provide more information during the work session in January.
D’Aquila said he would prefer some feedback sooner rather than later but understood further discussion was needed. However, the delay could stall the project, he added.

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