Town walking fine budget line during shaky financial time

Council dealing with budget short on green …

With the town of Crested Butte predicting a decrease in sales tax revenues for 2009, the Town Council is working on sculpting a tight budget. At a work session Monday evening, the council concurred with the staff’s budget proposal to not make cuts in personnel. But they also agreed to not start any new building projects and to focus on maintaining town infrastructure.



Council members are still looking for ways to improve the “green” aspect of town government operations and have yet to determine how much money will be spent on “service grants,” which are donations to local causes.
Sales tax revenue is the main driver of the town’s general fund and given national economic woes, the council is a bit uncertain on what it can count on as far as tourism in the coming year.
The $3 million 2009 general fund will be financed in part from a heftier than normal contribution from the town’s reserves. The reserve fund is at a very stout $3.2 million, which is more than a year’s operating budget. Crested Butte finance director Lois Rozman said it is financially prudent to have six months’ worth of reserves, so she is pleased at the position the town finds itself in. Much of the money being taken from the reserve fund is geared to financing one-time cost projects, like a town master plan and staff wage survey.
With the encouragement of Rozman, town manager Susan Parker and the one citizen in the audience, Steve Glazer, the council agreed to continue on the path of a conservative budget. “Based on the world economy and the events of the day,” Glazer said hours after the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 777 points, “our tourist-based economy could be hurting for the next three or four years. Be prudent, please, and maintain the town’s infrastructure. Prioritize maintenance over cosmetic appearances.”
Parker said that sentiment was the focus of the budget by the various department heads. “Steve made some good points,” she said. “We want to be more careful with the essentials over the aesthetics. We asked the departments to all be conservative.”
In fact, the initial request by department heads had the general capital fund spending $1.2 million but the staff members reduced requests to just a quarter million dollars.
Councilman Billy Rankin voiced concern that the budget document didn’t have a lot of meat in the green or sustainable energy category. “I was hoping for more follow-through with things like the energy audit,” he said. “We’ve made good progress changing over light bulbs in town. Maybe we can budget for additional fixtures, motion sensors and stuff like that. We are working on concrete plans from the ideas that came out of the energy conference that was conducted recently, but I’d like to see money set aside to address those issues.” He said a thorough energy conservation plan can be expected to be unveiled next spring.
In that vein, councilmember Kimberly Metsch pushed for more recycling opportunities along Elk Avenue.
Mayor Alan Bernholtz again brought up the idea of cutting the amount of money traditionally set aside for service grants and funneling those dollars into green issues. “We need to be the leaders with that,” he said. “Changing the light bulbs was a good first step, but what’s next?”
The discussion on service grants will not be held until the October 20 budget work session, when Bernholtz can be present. It appears that service grants is where the council sees the most flexibility in the budget.
Town planner John Hess suggested moving toward a full-time staff member to handle all things “green” in town.
“We’re not going to request another staff member in this tight financial time,” replied Bernholtz. “Is 2009 the right year for it?”
Hess responded it seems like “it is never the right year.”
The council asked the staff to consult with the Office for Resource Efficiency (ORE) to see if it can provide some additional manpower to help the town out in the “green” department.
The council also agreed to budget an extra $25 a month in compensation for each councilmember, to be used as a stipend to help reduce cell phone costs. The budget also includes a $5,600 expenditure in 2010 for laptop computers for each councilmember.
More long-term projects and desires voiced by the council included the idea of developing a camping area for tents and recreational vehicles in town, providing better recycling containers along Elk Avenue, building more bus and bike shelters, investigating alternative energy projects such as wind, hydro and solar farms, expanding more bear-proofing in the parks, and eventually purchasing hybrid vehicles for the marshal’s department.
The next budget work session is scheduled for October 14, followed by the service grant discussion October 20. Parker would like to see the October 27 work session wrap up the
budget discussions, with the council voting on the budget November 3.

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