The Paonia Town Council held a contentious study session on next year’s approximately $2 million dollar budget last week, with declining revenues pushing a host of competitive agendas.
Tax revenues have fallen all over the western slope, said Elyse Ackerman, regional manager of the Department of Local Affairs, or DOLA, who attended the session.
“The whole western slope is seeing a secondary dip happening,” Ackerman says. “If you talk to Mesa County, Montrose County, everyone’s kind of seeing it. The question is why, why is that happening again?”
Ackerman says the Front Range is recovering, but that the regional economy somehow seems to have taken another dip.Ackerman said DOLA is conducting an analysis of the reasons for the lagging economy on this side of the mountains.
In the meantime, the Town of Paonia has received a grant from DOLA to hire a city manager at a cost of nearly $100,000 per year including benefits, with the agency picking up half the cost over three years.
Mayor Neal Schwieterman worried that hiring the manager means going into the town’s reserves to pay its share, and recommended lowering the proposed salary and eliminating the deputy town clerk position in order to ensure a balanced budget.
But Trustee Ross King spoke strongly in favor of the new position being fully funded and supported by a larger staff.
“A town manager could bring to the table the opportunity for this board to ask for analysis and study of a lot aspects of this town’s business,” King said. “Right now we’re trying to run this town by committees.”
King said he’d feel more comfortable with a town manager who would deliver reports to the council on those analyses, adding that “most of the people here haven’t managed anything.”
Another hot budgetary issue is the care of the Town’s four parks, including Paonia Town Park, site of many events and festivals, and Apple Valley Park. For the past three years, Paonia has hired Mike Altenhofen to maintain the parks at a cost of about $32,000.
Altonhofen attended the work session and challenged the Town’s plan for replacing him with public works employees, saying there were not enough hours nor the right equipment dedicated to the task.
“Not only do I not see the savings to the taxpayers of this town, I see it could cost them triple what it’s costing now,” Altonhofen said.
Finally, there was discussion about proposed cuts in the public safety budget: whacking the police chief’s salary, which is currently $98 thousand dollars, not including benefits. The new proposed salary is $72 thousand dollars.
Trustee Larry Wissbeck said even the lower number is “above the pay scale” for similar posts in Colorado.
Wissbeck said Scott Leon had been doing two jobs for the 98 thousand dollar salary, serving as both chief of police and public works director. Now Travis Loberg is the public works director and Leon remains as chief.
There were also discussions about delaying a proposed water treatment project, and about the Town’s financial obligations to the North Fork Airport.
The council must ratify its budget in December.