Tom Smith resigns as Basalt town attorney because ‘it’s time for a change’
Basalt will seek a town attorney for the first time since April 2005 after Tom Smith resigned Tuesday night.
Smith said he submitted his letter of resignation, effective April 1, to the council as they prepared to go into a closed, executive session to evaluate his performance.
“It’s just time for a change for me. I’ve been doing it for 13 years,” Smith said Wednesday. “As far as I’m concerned, it was amicable.”
The council started Smith’s performance evaluation in a closed session Feb. 27. The board was scheduled to continue the evaluation Tuesday in a closed session. Smith said he never did discuss his performance with the board.
“It was moot when I handed them my resignation,” he said.
Smith never had a contract and worked as an independent contractor rather than a member of the town staff. That’s not unusual for small-town governments. Basalt has relied on outside counsel for decades.
The board said for years it was going to conduct a performance review but kept putting it off until last month. Town Manager Ryan Mahoney said the town will put out a request for proposals for an attorney, possibly as soon as next week.
Smith was selected from 17 applicants for the position in 2005. The council at that time interviewed the top three candidates.
Smith said he offered to assist the town through the transition. The timing is good for a change, he said, because there are no outstanding cases where Smith is representing the town and no major land-use reviews underway.
Smith said he will continue to practice law from his Basalt office and he will continue to represent the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority. He graduated from Notre Dame in 1970 and from the University of Colorado law school in 1974. He started his legal career with the Delaware Attorney General’s Office in 1974, focusing on environmental law. He joined the Colorado Attorney General’s Office in the late 1970s. Smith learned that the Pitkin County Attorney’s Office was open in 1983 and earned the appointment. He stayed there until 1990 when he went into private practice.
In the 1980s, the Pitkin County Attorney’s Office handled legal matters for the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority. When Smith left the county’s employment, the housing authority asked him to stay on as attorney. He has remained in that role for 35 years.
Smith said he has no intention of retiring from law.
In other Basalt town government news:
The council voted 7-0 to pass an ordinance to require licensing for tobacco retailers and increasing the minimum legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21 years. A fee in an amount to be determined will be charged for each license to cover the cost of administering the licensing program. The nine tobacco retailers in the town were informed of the proposed change prior to Tuesday’s council meeting. No one spoke on the measure. The staff recommended approving the ordinance. Raising the legal purchasing age and requiring licensing is part of a broader effort the town is taking to curb tobacco use. Councilman Bernie Grauer first suggested the effort.
“This change is accompanying a potential increase in tobacco tax which has been placed on the ballot and asks the electorate to add a $2 tax to a pack of cigarettes and a 40 percent increase for other tobacco products,” the staff memo said.
Voters will determine in the April 3 election if the taxes should be imposed. Revenue would be used in prevention programs. Just by asking the question, the town is surrendering $16,000 in annual cigarette tax revenue it receives from the state, regardless of the election outcome.
The town started its fiscal year with a bang. Sales tax collections in January were up 15 percent over the same month the prior year. The January sales tax collections apply to actual retail sales in December, so the report reflects holiday spending.
Sales by grocery stores and other retail food vendors were up 31 percent. Sales tax revenue from food stores alone were $228,467 for the month.
Sales were up 3.57 percent for general retail stores and down nearly 11 percent for sporting retail, the report said.
Restaurants with bars saw their sales soar 20.5 percent while restaurants without bars enjoyed a 35 percent increase for the month over January 2017.
Lodging sales were up 8.2 percent while retail liquor sales were flat.
For the month, Basalt town government reaped $519,510 in sales tax revenue. To put that into perspective, the town’s entire general fund budget for 2018 is $15.38 million, including debt service of $3.8 million. Therefore, the January sales tax collections place the town on solid ground to start the year.
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Basalt officials are determined to try to get the growth equation right — striking a balance between being too restrictive and ending up with problems like Aspen or being too lax and destroying the midvalley quality of life.