Crested Butte council ironing out draft 2024 budget

Plow driver hiring continues to be a challenge. Major street work next summer

By Mark Reaman

The Crested Butte town staff and council are busy finalizing a 2024 budget and, in the second draft of the document, town is taking a conservative revenue view projecting sales tax revenues will be flat with 2023. The draft also includes a 5% across the board raise for town employees, a commitment to maintain reserves of at least 100% of operating expenses in all funds and includes several new positions including a new sustainability director and department.

In a memo to the council, finance director Kathy Ridgeway explained how money would be shifted to more clearly delineate proper use of the funds. The town’s general fund is financed primarily with sales tax revenue accounting for about 74% of its funds instead of revenue. 

Personnel wage increases are budgeted at 5% while medical insurance premiums are increasing 4.5%. “Wage increases are necessary to partially offset the rapidly increasing cost of living in the Gunnison Valley, particularly current inflation and housing,” the memo states. 

“Is the 5% due to inflation,” asked mayor Ian Billick.

“Our recruiting is all over the map,” responded town manager Dara MacDonald. “We have lots of applications from good candidates for the open planner positions, but we can’t find a plow driver. We need to spend time next year to look at our peers both within and outside the county.”

MacDonald said the issue of attracting and retaining plow drivers has been around for a couple of years. “In our little microcosm, when the construction industry is booming, the town has a hard time attracting and hiring people from that segment,” she said.

The 5% salary increase figure will be divided between a 4% Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) increase with 1% available based on merit. Last year, the staff received an 8% COLA increase with a potential additional 4% based on merit.  

The memo also points out that 2024 “is a particularly loaded year” for one-time expenses in the general fund.

In the capital budget, there is $1 million budgeted for a potential post office design at Gothic and Sixth. But the council found out earlier this month that the U.S. Postal Service is taking a step back from that partnership even with the current lease on the Elk Avenue location expiring in February of 2026. The expectation was that $10 million would be expended for construction in 2025. No one knows if and when that might happen. Ridgeway pointed out that an upgraded marshal’s facility will be a large expenditure in the next few years as well.

Every five years the town does a major street upgrade and next summer parts of Elk Avenue and Eighth Street are scheduled to get a major rebuild. Those projects are budgeted at $1 million and will rebuild Elk Avenue west of Sixth Street as well as Eighth Street north from Elk Ave. Public Works director Shea Earley said the current scope of the project is to perform a full depth recycle of the roadway. “This would involve milling the existing road, reconditioning the subgrade and placing new asphalt,” he said. “Additionally, there will be some valley pan and/or curb and gutter replacement, and some strategic storm water improvements.”

Timing depends on the final engineering and design for the project.

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