Living in la-la land?
Putting a “green” fingerprint on the 2009 budget, the Crested Butte Town Council Monday set aside approximately $20,000 for a somewhat loosely defined energy conservation fund. The money will come primarily from funds traditionally set aside for so-called service grants used to donate to local non-profit organizations.
The $20,000 is not designated for any specific purpose but the council agreed to set it aside for energy-efficient projects. The council discussed at length how much to trim from the service grants and shift to the green fund. Councilperson Leah Williams suggested taking a portion of the money, about $15,000 and designating it specifically for projects like light-bulb replacements in town buildings, matching fund grants for non-profits trying to be energy-efficient, or other energy conservation projects.
“I am all for carving some money out of the service grant proposals to take care of our buildings and improve their energy efficiency,” said mayor Alan Bernholtz. “It’s okay for the council to say we can’t do as much or maybe anything at all for the service grants this year. It is a tough time right now. All of these projects are really important but now is a difficult time financially and we have to make tough decisions. None of these organizations will go belly up because they didn’t get a thousand dollar grant from the town.”
Traditionally the Town Council has set aside 2 percent of its general fund budget for service grants. This year that would amount to about $57,000 for 23 organizations, ranging from the Library and Crested Butte Avalanche Center asking for $500 each to the Office for Resource Efficiency asking for $12,500. Last year the council received $70,000 in requests and granted $46,400.
“I disagree with you Alan,” said councilmember Skip Berkshire. “I think it is a bad time to cut back on the non-profits. Those organizations are getting hit hard in these economic times. Grant monies are drying up all over the country. These are all local organizations and they all do good things. They have staffs that are paid and contribute to the economy. I think we have to be mindful of the big picture.”
Bernholtz pointed out that Mt. Crested Butte has curtailed giving money to such organizations in tough economic times and its council members didn’t get a lot of heat.
“I don’t care what Mt. Crested Butte did or didn’t do,” responded Berkshire. “If they want to come across as Scrooges, that’s up to them. We’ve always taken care of the non-profits. I also have a problem with a rush to be green without a road map of where we are going.”
Councilperson Kimberly Metsch agreed with Berkshire on not cutting non-profit grants entirely from the budget. “It’s not a good time to pull money from the non-profits. I think they are getting the message we want them to be self-sustaining.”
Councilman Reed Betz concurred. “I don’t want to pull the rug out from under them,” he said. “I like the idea of having a fat wallet available so that when a good project comes, the money is there to fund it.”
Town manager Susan Parker agreed it was a tough time to cut back. “But we have asked everyone to become sustainable. Now, the problem I have with an energy conservation fund is that there is no dedicated revenue source to fund it,” she said. “It is not sustainable. It draws down the reserve. It is basically deficit budgeting.”
Councilman Dan Escalante made it clear that the service grants would likely be less this year. “Any organization expecting the same amount as last year is living in la-la land,” he commented. “No one will be surprised if we tighten this up. And remember that taking some of these green measures saves the town money in the long run.”
Bernholtz admitted putting money into a green fund would be deficit spending “but it is part of the things we do as a town. Putting nice flowers out on Elk doesn’t bring in revenue but it’s a good thing to do. We do more than just essential services.”
Bernholtz reminded the council that a task force that germinated from the recent Energy Summit is meeting to come up with specific ideas on how municipalities can be more energy-efficient. “I would like to set the money aside and wait and see their recommendations,” he suggested. “I think it is important we focus on our town facilities.”
Berkshire chimed in that he saw providing service grants not as deficit spending but rather as “investing in the community. If they don’t contribute good things that benefit the community, we don’t fund them again,” he said.
The council agreed to set aside approximately $20,000 for an Energy Efficiency Fund. How that money will be spent is yet to be determined. A council subcommittee of Bernholtz, Betz and Crested Butte finance director Lois Rozman will look over the service grant requests and come to a recommendation on how to divvy up the remaining money.
When asked by Betz what she thought of the green fund, Rozman took a few seconds before responding. “I think this is a way to say what is important to you. You are saying it clearly to the staff and the non-profits. But be careful doing this. It’s not a way to build up a new ‘Green Department’ in town but it is making it clear that energy conservation is passionate and important to you.”
“Now we need to find clear ways to focus that passion,” added Berkshire.
The greenest councilmember, Billy Rankin, was not at the meeting to further discussion… but he was on a river trip somewhere in the American Southwest.