CB budget highlights: big raises, hiring a sustainability coordinator

Staff looking at potential 12% pay increase

[  By Mark Reaman  ]

The Crested Butte town council approved its overall $40 million 2023 budget on December 5 that included big pay raises for town employees and some new staff positions including a town coordinator for climate mitigation. As usual, there was scant public comment. 

Crested Butte finance director Kathy Ridgeway presented the council with a comprehensive narrative and financial report. She described the town’s financial condition as “healthy due to the growth in sales and real estate transfer taxes (RETT), combined with rate increases and closely managed expenditures.”

Ridgeway explained that a primary assumption for the 2023 budget deals with post-pandemic inflation and related factors. She is taking a very conservative view toward next year’s sales tax revenues by assuming there will be 0% growth over the 2022 projected revenues. That is still $6,150,000 which is roughly a 37% increase over the 2022 budget number but flat with the actual collections. Sales tax revenue accounts for about 81% of general fund revenues. 

Fund balance reserves will continue to hold more than a year’s worth of operating money. That operating figure is about $12 million annually and the 2023 budget anticipates total reserves of just less than $27 million to be in the bank account at the end of next December. 

Big raises coming

Given the healthy state of its finances, the town will be aggressively paying its employees with up to a 12% raise in the works for next year. That will come with an across-the-board cost of living adjustment of 8% increase followed by a 4% merit increase to reward exemplary performance. 

In her report, it was noted that “this is a remarkable wage increase and is reflective of the high inflation being experienced coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic and extraordinary local increase in housing experiences.”

The word “remarkable” caught the attention of councilmember Mallika Magner who asked why that word was chosen to describe the pay increases.

“Local governments typically don’t do much more than about a 4% increase,” said town manager Dara MacDonald. “It is unusual and hopefully we won’t see it again, but it is warranted given the current situation. We feel we have sufficient reserves to do this increase even if there is a significant downturn in the economy.”

The report to council again mentioned that “the town has experienced increasing pressure on attraction and retention of employees, and wages are one important component of the equation. Several full-time positions in the town government have remained open for many months in 2021 and 2022 with no applications at all…Staff retention has been a top concern in 2022 with the unemployment rate in Gunnison County hovering just above 2% for most of the year…With unfilled positions, retention has become critical to being able to maintain municipal operations.”

Sustainability coordinator to be hired

Three new positions were added to the Crested Butte town staff in 2022. Four new positions are being included for 2023. Those include a sustainability coordinator, a public works maintenance worker, a part-time recreation and open space coordinator and a building inspector. The idea of climate sustainability coordinator first publicly broached by councilmember Anna Fenerty last month was discussed at the December 5 meeting.

“What is the thought of hiring a sustainability coordinator versus spending money on implementing projects?” asked mayor Ian Billick.

“There is a lot happening in this realm that we are not keeping up with. A lot of things are happening in the state and the region,” explained MacDonald. “It will be beneficial to be on top of opportunities. It is also important to have a voice on our staff focused on climate mitigation. It is great to see council support for such a move. “

“With new federal legislation like the Inflation Reduction Act, could pursuing grants and other money associated with climate mitigation be another place of benefit?” asked councilmember Beth Goldstone.

“There is more work than any one person could do, so we have to prioritize and that’s certainly on the list,” responded MacDonald.

“Resiliency should be on the list too,” suggested Billick. “We can do what we can to mitigate climate impacts, but we should also be preparing for ramifications of climate change like a loss of wildflowers for example.

“This position could potentially help the town financially,” continued Billick. “And it can help us prepare for long-term climate issues that impact us directly with resiliency.”

As part of the annual budgeting process, fees and utility rates are also adjusted. A public hearing will be held on December 19 over the proposed rate increase for water and sewer rates. Basically, the base water allotment will be reduced from 8,000 gallons to 4,000 gallons to discourage unnecessary water consumption. The rates themselves are projected to go up about 23% while tap fees and other fees associated with water and wastewater service will be raised 30%.

The annual fee for vacation rental licenses will also go up to help pay for administrative costs and for new software that will monitor complaints. An unlimited license will now cost $800 while the primary residence license fee will go to $250.

Making up for lost time when capital projects were put on the back burner during the pandemic, the town will be spending significant money on things like affordable housing projects and water and sewer infrastructure upgrades.

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