Basalt council avoids playing the role of Scrooge with 2004 budget | AspenTimes.com
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Basalt council avoids playing the role of Scrooge with 2004 budget

The top officials in Basalt town government didn’t have to play Scrooge during the budget process this year.

In fall 2002, the Town Council approved Town Manager Tom Baker’s recommendation to cut three full-time positions and one part-time position from the staff. The layoffs saved the town an estimated $175,000 and made up for a drop in sale tax revenues.

“Last year when we had to cut staff 14 percent, there were a lot of difficult decisions the council had to make,” said Baker.

The town cut its expenses by about 8.5 percent in 2003, although grants it received for specific projects made it appear that spending was up.

For 2004, Baker and the council didn’t cut any positions. The budget finalized Tuesday night will give department heads their first salary increases in two years and other employees their first raises in 18 months, Baker said. Payroll costs will increase by about $77,000.

The town government anticipates that its total expenditures will be $3.5 million in 2003. Spending is budgeted to grow by about 15 percent to $4.02 million.

Some of the extra spending is dedicated to completing the planning and implementation of a river master plan, which will create a vision of what Basalt wants developed on sites along or nearby its rivers. Other money will be devoted to updating a land-use master plan ” a document that dictates everything from the types of projects the town wants developed to desired locations of trails.

Baker said the town is conservatively counting on sales taxes to decrease slightly in 2004, although recent signs show spending may be rebounding. Taking a conservative approach, he explained, is what’s kept the town out of financial troubles since the economy slumped after Sept. 11, 2001.

Sales taxes account for nearly 50 percent of the town’s revenues, while property taxes account for only 10 percent. Sales tax revenues in 2003 will be roughly $1.82 million. Revenues from all taxes are expected to climb only 2.5 percent in 2004.

The town will be able to spend more this year by dipping into its reserve fund. “We have ample reserves to bridge this gap, this desire,” said Baker.

The reserve fund is expected to reach nearly $3 million by the end of this year. The 2004 budget anticipates withdrawing about $402,000 from that account.

A memo to the Town Council from Baker and finance director Renae Gustine said that generally accepted accounting practices suggest the town should maintain a $900,000 reserve ” significantly lower than the town will have even after dipping into it in 2004.

“Clearly the town is in very good financial condition,” the staff memo said.

Following are some of the cuts and increases in the 2004 budget:

n A proposal to increase the salary for council members was eliminated.

n Cleanup day, where people could place big items like broken washing machines or mattresses on the curb for town crews to haul away, was eliminated.

n The purchase of an energy-efficient car, possibly a Toyota Prius, for town staff use was moved to a higher priority.

n $40,000 was added to the streets budget to plan and implement changes to the recycling center.

n No further reduction in dependent health care coverage was approved. The council approved a staff recommendation to start phasing out the coverage starting with the 2003 budget. The town covered 20 percent less of dependent health care coverage last year and was scheduled to drop that down another 20 percent this year, leaving the town covering 60 percent of the coverage costs. However, the board had a change of heart and decided to keep picking up 80 percent of the cost of the coverage.

“Over the past year it has become apparent that the removal of this benefit will likely result in a significant hardship for town employees with dependents,” said a memo from Baker and Gustine to the council.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com]


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