Still dipping into reserves despite cutting grants and lowering attorney costs
By Mark Reaman
The Crested Butte Town Council approved its 2019 budget to the tune of $15.2 million last month. The budget is anticipated to dip into reserves by about $675,000. It will still keep millions of dollars in the reserves, including a $3.8 million reserve for the general fund, which is expected to have expenditures of $4.8 million in 2019.
In the past, the council has directed staff to maintain at least one year’s worth of operating expense in reserve. At $3.8 million, the town is at only 77 percent of that goal, and must keep gradually adding to reserves. According to town finance director Rob Zillioux, “This will be particularly important when the next recession hits—and that’s not if, it’s when.”
Changes to the budget made after a November work session include spending $194,000 on a lift project in the Old Town Hall’s Mallardi Cabaret; spending $45,000 to resurface the Rainbow Park playground; removing anticipated development of Avalanche Park from the five-year capital plan; putting in new charges for all special events in Town Park; and budgeting a monthly legal retainer of $14,000 for Sullivan, Green and Seavy as the town attorney.
Employee wages are expected to go up 4 percent, while their insurance premiums are budgeted to rise 7 percent. Community grants were reduced from about $100,000 to $52,000.
Mayor Jim Schmidt said the grant subcommittee that included council members Paul Merck and Laura Mitchell recommended that grants be focused primarily on mental health assistance, so the heftiest awards went to the Gunnison County Substance Abuse Prevention Project, the Center for Mental Health, the Gunnison Valley Health Foundation and Living Journeys.
The Coal Creek Watershed Coalition, Mountain Roots, Adaptive Sports, KBUT, the Mountain Theatre and NW Colorado Legal Services also received grants.
About a dozen groups that requested funding were given zero dollars. Schmidt hoped the council would again look at the grants after the winter season and spread some wealth if the winter sales tax revenues brought unexpected income to the town.
“The budget is quite tight overall,” Zillioux told the council at the December meeting. “I believe expenses are about as tight as we can do next year.” Zillioux is budgeting for a 2 percent increase in sales tax revenue, and is recommending not raising the water and sewer rates and not increasing the town mill levy.
Councilman Jackson Petito asked about cutting the $6,000 contribution to Crested Butte Nordic to help support grooming the trails on the Town Ranch. Zillioux said he had a good conversation with Crested Butte Nordic executive director Christie Hicks and talked about the big picture. He noted that the town contributed tens of thousands of dollars in value by giving the organization a rent-free facility and not charging for utilities. Zillioux said the town has awarded Crested Butte Nordic thousands of dollars during the last few seasons, and also provides several easements for the Nordic trails.
“I would love to do everything for everybody but we just can’t,” he told the council.
The capital budget is seeing some big expenditures, with $350,000 earmarked to purchase land in the Cypress Foothills annexation; having $100,000 set aside for green/sustainable projects; $100,000 for pedestrian bridge maintenance; and the just added $194,000 for a new lift in Old Town Hall. Zillioux said the 2019 affordable housing projects are big-ticket items but they should pay for themselves through sales of the new units.
Petito said he had been asked why the parks budget was being cut when voters recently approved a tax to go specifically for that line item. Zillioux said the budget wasn’t being cut. He said $450,000 (including a $350,000 Great Outdoor Colorado grant) was going toward the new “Pirate Park” by the Center for the Arts, $45,000 to resurface the Rainbow Park playground and $75,000 to buy a replacement skid steer used in the parks.
The council approved the budget after no public comment. “This is probably the biggest thing we do all year and no one ever comments,” noted Schmidt.