Basalt budget talks forcing decision on Pan and Fork land purchase
October 25, 2017
Basalt's biggest political logjam might finally be broken next month when the Town Council is forced to make some tough budget decisions.
Councilmembers said they must determine if they will pursue buying the remaining Pan and Fork property for $2.9 million before they settle some outstanding budget issues.
"It seems that is the big elephant that's going to have the most impact on the budget next year," Councilman Bernie Grauer told fellow board members during a budget discussion Tuesday night.
The council has plenty of budget challenges even without the Pan and Fork debate. Members struggled Tuesday to find funds to pay for basic services such as road maintenance and police car replacement.
“It seems that is the big elephant that’s going to have the most impact on the budget next year.”
— Councilman Bernie Grauer
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To help balance the budget and maintain a reserve of 33 percent of annual operating costs, the staff floated a handful of ideas by the council for savings on operations. One featured deferring replacement of vehicles in the police department fleet for another year. Under the plan, the town would spend about $250,000 per year from 2019 through 2021 to get the cops refitted.
The staff also recommended reducing pavement repair from the requested $600,000 to $300,000.
The staff also recommended cuts to "social capital" funding requests — programs that aren't part of the essential town services but have a vital role in the town. Town Manager Ryan Mahoney and staff advised reducing the contribution to child care services from the $75,000 provided in 2017 to $30,000 next year. The recommended contribution to WeCycle, the valley's bike share program, also was proposed to decrease from $75,000 to $30,000. The staff recommended not making a contribution to Grassroots TV for 2018 while a Climate Action Plan was tentatively earmarked for $104,200.
Some of the proposed cuts sounded alarms for council members. Councilman Gary Tennenbaum said funding child care is vital for families in Basalt. The funds are used to reduce monthly payments for parents struggling to pay for childcare.
Grauer lamented budget stasis, where there is an inability to cover basic services such as street repairs.
Councilman Auden Schendler favored dipping into reserves to make some "prudent" investments.
"To me, it seems dumb to have an arbitrary rule that says we have to have 33 percent reserve," he said.
Councilwoman Katie Schwoerer countered that it is prudent, conservative financial planning to maintain a healthy reserve. She urged the council to cover life and public safety issues, such as the roadwork and police fleet replacement in full, then use whatever funds remain on the social capital requests.
As it stands, different council members prefer funding their favorite projects, Schwoerer said. She compared the process to pork barrel funding U.S. Congress is infamous for, though she referred to it as "pork product" funding.
"That's what I see here is people are picking their favorite project," she said.
The council ultimately decided to focus at its next meeting Nov. 14 on the big picture of the municipal budget, then come back and determine what funds are available for social capital.
Grauer said the big picture discussion would require a decision on the Pan and Fork property.
A faction of the council wants to find funds to buy 2.3 acres from the Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. and use a portion of that property to expand an existing park alongside the Roaring Fork River. Town voters rejected issuing debt last November to buy the property. Proponents of a purchase contend open-space funds can be used for the purchase without affecting the general budget — which funds projects like road repairs.