County commissioner is ready to cut projects
Aspen Times Staff Writer
County Commissioner Shellie Roy called for elimination of all “pet” projects in the county budget yesterday, including those paid for with state and federal tax dollars.
Roy, reacting to the voters’ overwhelming rejection of a tax question in Tuesday’s primary election, set her sights on eliminating two popular county programs.
First she proposed to snuff plans for restoring lime kilns along the upper Fryingpan River. A number of such kilns that were used to extract lime from limestone are scattered around the county, remnants of the time when mines and quarries held a more important place in the local economy.
The Colorado Department of Transportation recently agreed to foot most of the bill for restoring kilns near Thomasville, but the agreement requires a commitment of $8,000 from the county. The bulk of the restoration project will be paid for by CDOT and the federal government.
Roy said the county should save the money for more urgent needs in the wake of Tuesday’s election. Voters rejected an amendment to the county’s home rule charter that would have resulted in a property tax increase of 80 cents for every $100,000 of property value.
Currently the county is facing a $2 million deficit in its $17.4 million general fund. It has already laid off three employees, eliminated six other positions that were unfilled, slashed operating expenses by 5 percent across the board, deferred several public works projects and imposed a hiring freeze. Without an increase in property taxes, it’s anticipated that a significant number of layoffs will be necessary this fall, and a few departments will be eliminated altogether.
The county commissioners are considering two other property tax questions for the November general election ballot, but the fact that 70 percent of the voters came out against Tuesday’s ballot question casts doubt about their chances of passing.
Roy noted that even though the lime kiln restoration plan has unanimous support in the upper Fryingpan valley, a large majority of residents in the Basalt/Fryingpan area nevertheless voted against the ballot question.
“If we’re going to have to cut 15 percent from our budget, I don’t think we can afford to do this,” she said.
County Commissioner Dorothea Farris came out strongly in support of the restoration project, however. She noted that once the kilns deteriorate past a certain point, they are gone for good. She also pointed out that most of the expenses are being covered with state and federal dollars.
“The budget will have to be cut somewhere, but it won’t come from the lime kilns. I don’t think the people I represent want it to come from the lime kilns,” Farris said.
All four commissioners present at yesterday’s meeting, including Roy, ultimately voted for the lime kiln restoration project. Roy’s vote came only after county staff said they would attempt to recover the county contribution with additional grant applications.
Roy also suggested the county eliminate a fee waiver that it grants homeowners who want to dump small amounts of brush and other combustible natural materials at the county landfill. The waiver is an incentive for people to create a defensible space around their homes as part of the overall effort to reduce the threat of wildfire.
“I don’t mean to be punitive, but I want to make the services we provide more visible to people. This is a fee we charge everyone else,” Roy said.
Farris and the other commissioners again prevailed on Roy to reconsider. They noted that the program has been effective and only allows a waiver for the first two cubic yards of material, about the amount that fills a small pickup truck. The waiver was maintained as part of an overall adjustment – upward – of the fees at the landfill.
But after the meeting Roy pointed out that the waivers and restoration efforts and other pet projects will need to be eliminated if voters reject tax increases in the November general election.
“If you value the kilns, if you value the Youth Zone, if you value water studies, if you value our senior service programs or any other projects that aren’t mandated by the state, you need to convince your neighbors to support the tax questions this November,” she said.
[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is email@example.com]
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