Paving projects, affordable housing, wages
by Mark Reaman
The Crested Butte town council passed its 2016 budget on Monday, November 2.
Generally, town finance director Lois Rozman anticipates sales tax revenue to increase 2 percent over projected revenue for 2015. That amounts to a 10 percent increase over actual 2014 sales tax collections, or about $3.5 million.
The 2016 budget calls for a decrease in the mill levy of .5 percent to 8 mills. It will actually bring in a bit more revenue from the town’s property tax because of the increase in assessed valuation with town properties. Water and sewer charges will be adjusted from $60 to $61.
A $15,000 RV dump station is budgeted as an adjustment to the 2015 budget as is a $50,000 increase to $125,0000 for the town’s share of a Wastewater Plant Storage Building. That increase is attributed to construction market increases from last fall’s budget.
Some 2016 budgeted projects include $35,000 in design and engineering for a bus stop upgrade at the Four-way Stop. The town plans to slurry-seal some street areas in 2016 and do a full “recycle” of some streets in 2017. The visitor center parking lot is slated for paving in 2017, while the area by the tennis courts will get some asphalt next summer. By having asphalt laid at the visitor center, the lot would be expanded to accommodate 147 parking spaces. Some sort of fireproof pavers would be included to accommodate a Vinotok bonfire.
Councilman Shaun Matusewicz was hesitant to pave the area to the west of the tennis courts along Sixth Street. “Adding more pavement to the heart of town is something I don’t really want to see,” he said.
The rest of the council was okay with the proposed paving plan.
How much (money and guidance) to set aside for affordable housing
A debate took place during the budget work session meetings about how to prioritize sales tax money collected in excess of the town budget. Matusewicz proposed a formal town policy that during boom years would direct staff and councils to essentially prioritize placing that money in either the general capital fund or the affordable housing fund, based on the current budget needs.
While 25 percent of all sales tax revenue must go to transportation, the other 75 percent is not strictly earmarked, so in the past, the vast majority has gone to the general fund to pay for most town services. Some has been spent in the general capital fund to pay for equipment or physical projects.
Given the strong economic boost the town has seen with sales tax revenue in the past few years, the 2016 budget is predicting further excess sales tax collections that would allow putting just 70 percent of the sales tax collected into the general fund. The remaining 5 percent would go into the capital fund.
Matusewicz argued to put most of it, along with the majority of the 2015 excess sales tax revenue, toward workforce housing in the affordable housing fund.
“This is something to do when times are flush. We can build up that affordable housing fund. Remember that when we are talking about workforce housing we’re not just talking about transient seasonal workers, but people like the town department heads,” Matusewicz said. “People making good salaries need to be able to find places to live here.”
“I agree that affordable housing and that fund is important, particularly now,” said councilman Skip Berkshire. “But I don’t think we should change the policy. I prefer keeping it as general as possible to give councils latitude to use that excess money with greater discretion.”
“I think the affordable housing issue will only get worse,” countered councilman Glenn Michel. “We should find ways to fund it and fund it into the future. This policy would guide where the funds go, not earmark them.”
“There is no question that affordable housing should be a priority right now,” said Berkshire. “I just want to maintain flexibility.”
Town planner Michael Yerman said the town itself is in a housing hole with its employees. He pointed out that the majority of snowplow drivers live in Gunnison. “We have a $1.8 million need for staff housing,” he said. “That eventually means you will have staffing issues.”
Town public works director Rodney Due said there were other pressing needs the town could address in the future with excess sales tax collections. He cited the need to expand the wastewater treatment plant. “That is something we have to do and is caused by 12,000 summer visitors, but the burden will be on the 1,500 people living in town. I think it is appropriate to use sales tax money for that type of project, too.”
“We should be building up the affordable housing fund when times are good and we collect extra money,” said councilman Jim Schmidt. “I’d suggest we put $200,000 out of the excess $600,000 we have from 2015 in that fund this year.”
While there is approximately $600,000 in extra money in the town coffers over the budget, $500,000 of it is from sales tax.
Schmidt said he was okay with the proposed policy change suggested by Matusewicz since “We can always change it in the future.”
Councilman Roland Mason said allocating some money for the affordable housing fund was appropriate but given the drumbeat of the last year about the shortage in parks and recreation maintenance funds, he wanted to keep the majority of the money in the capital fund. “We are deferring so many projects right now. I think we need to address some of them.”
“This is a proactive act, saying that workforce housing is important,” said Matusewicz. “It is important for workers, including town staff, to have places to live.”
Councilman Chris Ladoulis, Mason and mayor Aaron Huckstep agreed with Berkshire to keep the excess sales tax policy “general” to provide flexibility for future councils.
Personnel wages for town employees are budgeted to go up generally about 5 percent. The town is trying to bring its employees up to a comparable level of salary with similar towns. They use a comparison list with 18 similar municipalities.
Rozman said each position in town has been evaluated and, generally, bigger raises will go to employees on the low end of the comparative scale, while those on the upper end of the scale will get a smaller raise.
MunciRevs coming to a business near you
The town plans to install an online sales tax and business license collection program. That will be pricey at first ($20,000) and will cost about $18,000 annually, but it is expected to recoup costs through saving time with current town employees and reallocation of their duties. In addition, it will automatically impose penalties for late payments.