Large amount of reserve funds will protect town services in 2010

Tough situation brings about initial ideas for combining things like cops and playgrounds

Years of taking an extremely conservative budget approach are keeping the town of Crested Butte from taking drastic measures in its 2010 budget situation. Nevertheless, employee salaries are being frozen; except for an anticipated health insurance premium hike, benefits for town employees are not rising; overtime has been eliminated; recreation program costs will be increased; and $262,000 will still be tapped from town reserves to balance the general fund budget. The budget situation has also gotten the Town Council thinking about the possibility of even combining some departments in the north end of the valley with Mt. Crested Butte, like the marshal’s department and recreation programs. 





Crested Butte has four primary budget funds. The general fund is budgeted to be $2,970,000 and is funded primarily through sales tax (57 percent). Property tax contributes just 7 percent to the general fund. Town expenditures for salaries and programs come from this fund.
The general capital fund pays for equipment, buildings and maintenance of town assets like the parks. That fund is budgeted for $648,000 and is funded mainly through a 1.5 percent real estate transfer tax. Given the status of real estate sales in Crested Butte, the general capital budget is significantly smaller than in recent years, and in fact dropped more than 50 percent from 2009.
The town’s water and sewer fund has a budget of $3,349,000. That figure includes $1.9 million to be spent for a new clarifier in the wastewater treatment plant. Money in that fund comes through water and sewer bills, along with tap fees.
Streets and alleys in Crested Butte have their own fund, with a budget of $1.2 million for 2010. Of that, $650,000 will go toward paving Eighth Street, and another $207,000 is budgeted for the Safe Routes to School path along Eighth.
“Because we’ve been fiscally conservative and very responsible over the past several years, the town is not cutting services and programs,” said Crested Butte finance director Lois Rozman. “We are able to maintain our current standards.”
That fiscal responsibility has helped build a reserve in the general fund of about $3 million. That reserve is paying dividends right now. But that doesn’t mean the town is being any less fiscally conservative.
During budget work sessions this fall, the Crested Butte council started the discussion of paring down some municipal costs in the long run. The idea of combining law enforcement and/or recreation personnel at this end of the valley was also broached. Crested Butte employs nine people in its marshal’s department, including seven officers, while Mt. Crested Butte has seven officers and eight total employees. Mt. Crested Butte also receives a stipend from the county to provide sheriff’s services north of Round Mountain.
“There have been conversations about perhaps combining the recreation department and even law enforcement coverage with Crested Butte at some point, but nothing official has taken place,” said Mt. Crested Butte town manager Joe Fitzpatrick. “We are always looking at ways to save money. In these tough economic times, we’ll look at ways to trim the budgets.
Crested Butte town manager Susan Parker said it is common for a town’s public safety sector to have the largest budget expense. In Crested Butte, that figure is $692,000, of which $445,124 is in salaries.
Council members are aware of both the perception and reality of the town budget situation. “We’re in one of the worst economic situations the country has seen,” said councilperson Dan Escalante during a budget meeting last week. “For me, it was hard to see salaries go up last year. It’s hard, hard times out there. Town employees have great benefits. I wish everyone could get a raise, but I think freezing the salaries is necessary.”
Parker said those working the public sector sacrifice during the flush times. “I don’t disagree with Dan, but there are no surges for town employees like when the economy was booming a few years ago,” she explained. “Looking at the salaries, I think we need to freeze them right now, but no one is being overpaid at all.”
Mayor Alan Bernholtz said the alternative would be to lay off people. “We don’t want to do that,” he said. “There is boom and bust in the private sector, while those working for the town are more steady. I think a freeze is hard enough.”
The council agreed to relook at salaries in August and see if the financial situation has turned around for the better.
The service grants for local programs and non-profit organizations were cause for debate as usual. With nearly $120,000 in requests, the town has initially budgeted about $52,000. That includes contributions to things like the Office of Resource Efficiency (ORE), the Nordic Centers, the Center for the Arts, July 4 fireworks and programs like Butte Bucks. Last year the town awarded a total of $30,200 in such grants. This year, $41,500 was given out. The council allocated $3,000 of the $6,000 request for fireworks but promised to raise the balance as a special council project. The largest service grant went to ORE for $10,000. The Nordic Center will get $10,000 under a capital grant as well.
Fees across the board will be seeing an increase, with the exception of liquor permits for art galleries. That fee will be reduced from $50 to $5. Parks and recreation rental fees will rise from essentially $7.50 an hour to $10 an hour.
The building department will see fees increase for just about everything. Building permits, for example, will increase about 9 percent. Escalante, a builder by trade, was uncomfortable with the hikes. “Things have come crashing down in the building arena and the fees are going up,” he noted. “Can we trim the process instead, to keep the fees down? I’d favor a sliding scale of some sort in order to not hurt the small jobs. It is the little projects that impact the locals.”
Escalante gave an example of a recent job of his where he had to attend three meetings to get approval to change some windows at a local residence. “Even when the process is going smoothly, it could be shorter and that should cut down on costs,” he said.
Town building and zoning director Bob Gillie said the department was just trying to get the fees more in line with what “we actually spend on them. This is peanuts compared to some other places like Telluride,” he said. “There is a sliding scale of sorts in that as a project gets more complex and needs more review, the cost goes up.”
Councilperson Billy Rankin said he hears more complaints about the building process than just about anything else in town. Gillie said process was a separate issue from fee structure and could be addressed by the new Town Council.
The council will look at the final budget at its regular meeting on November 2 with the hopes of giving it final approval at a special meeting on November 16.

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