Council sets first priorities for capital expenditures

Budget in the rough edges?

By Mark Reaman

As the Crested Butte town council begins the annual budget season, a work session on Monday, September 18 ended with some of their capital project priorities becoming clear. As expected, workforce housing remains at the top of the list and a top priority is getting Mineral Point “across the finish line.” Planning for transportation projects, a Nordic snowcat barn with public restrooms by the Recreation Path in Paradise Park, adding some heft to sustainability projects with current infrastructure like replacing windows in town hall and making clear any return-on-investment (ROI) with climate projects also topped the direction.

Crested Butte finance and administrative services director Kathy Ridgeway led the council through the September 18 capital budgeting discussion. She explained that the town should have approximately $10 million available to spend on government fund-related capital projects next year, and $7.8 million in 2024 projects have been proposed by staff. More than $39 million in government fund-related projects are being considered over the next five years so staff was seeking short and long-term priorities from the council. 

“It appears to me that we just put a lot of money into the Big Mine Skatepark so it seems we should catch up a bit with recreation money,” said mayor Ian Billick.

“But we should be looking for grants and take advantage if they show up so we can leverage money,” said councilmember Jason MacMillan.

Town manager Dara MacDonald said different projects have different public priorities. “For example, no one is pushing to replace the windows in town hall but there was lots of support for the skatepark even when GOCO did not end up coming through with a grant,” she said.

Parks, Recreation, Open Space and Trails department director Janna Hansen said a proposed Nordic cat barn project by the Slate River recreation path is hoping for a GOCO grant. The project is anticipated to cost $600,000 and the hope is the state will contribute $100,000 with CB Nordic coming in with $45,000 for the project.

“I think it is an important project, but I like the suggestion of the town committing $300,000 with the remainder coming from other sources,” said MacMillan.

“$300,000 is a significant town investment,” added Billick.

“$300,000 is a significant contribution toward a nonprofit organization to help them operate more efficiently,” agreed MacDonald

Billick pointed out that the Gunnison County Met Rec district will have money for such recreation-oriented capital projects in the North Valley and should be asked for contributions.

“How necessary is the replacement of the Rainbow Park playground,” asked councilmember Gabi Prochaska. That project had $140,000 budgeted in 2025 for planning and $700,000 budgeted in 2026 for the actual project.

“It is getting to the point that some things need to be replaced due to age and safety,” said Hansen. “How long can we put a band aid on this? We have done a lot of band aids and patchwork with the playing surface, the slides and the area around the climbing boulder.”

“Rainbow Park is a good example of a high-profile park and one of those places where we want to put our best foot forward when it is time,” said MacMillan. “I think we’ll be able to find additional funding sources for that one.”

“Looking at this outline I would say given our Climate Action Plan we should do some more things with existing infrastructure,” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, suggested councilmember Beth Goldstone.

“I would agree with that and say we should be less aggressive with new structures,” said Billick.

“I agree with Beth that sustainability measures are important,” said MacMillan. “Can we put more money there? That is a place where there are lots of grants available to leverage our funds.”

MacDonald said new Crested Butte sustainability coordinator Dannah Leeman is looking at new program ideas to present to the council in November.

“I would love to see our carbon footprint decisions determined by ROI,” said Billick. “Look at the costs, the returns, the benefits, the long-term energy expenditures. It is all important.”

MacDonald said the water treatment plant is a major municipal energy user, but the new renovation will reduce energy expenditures by about 60%. “It is one of those behind-the-scenes projects that will make a big impact,” she said.

Goldstone asked if there were some ongoing maintenance projects that could be cut back to save money. “We do things like plow snow when it hits three inches instead of five inches now. Would it also save money to cut back on alley maintenance for example,” she asked.

Public Works director Shea Earley it was worth a discussion and the town spends a lot of money moving snowbanks off Elk Avenue, for example.

“Are there things that we have done that smooth out the town’s rough edges but can save money and impact carbon footprint,” said Billick.

Earley said the town has traditionally been reactive and has recently tried to be proactive when it comes to maintenance.

“We will keep that in mind going forward,” said MacDonald.

The budget discussions will regularly continue for the next several weeks.

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