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Crawford continues broadband discussion

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In light of passage of the Town of Crawford Ballot Question 2D, which more than 77 percent of town voters approved in the Nov. 3 combined election, trustees continued discussion of funding of the project at the Nov. 4 town work session. Question 2D asked voters to opt out of Colorado Senate Bill 05-152, which calls for voter approval before a local government can use taxpayer money to engage in providing telecommunications services.

Council members tentatively agreed to commit $20,000, payable over two years, for Crawford's share of the cost of installation of final-mile infrastructure that will allow entities to provide high speed broadband to homes and businesses. The town itself will not be a service provider. Crawford had earlier estimated its cost at $60,000, which would allow for five possible anchor sites, including Crawford Town Hall, Crawford Library, the town shop, Crawford Volunteer Fire Department and North Fork Montessori School. The final two sites have yet to be identified.

While the town is willing to commit $20,000 for the creation of two anchor points, that number remains an estimate. "Realistically," said trustee Mike Tiedeman, "we're all going to be willing to discuss this as more information comes in."

In looking at how the town will recoup the cost, former town clerk Jackie Savage suggested to trustees that some of the money will come back in the form of a franchise tax.

Council also voted to award the bid to remodel and upgrade the town hall kitchen to Ridgway Valley Enterprises, which submitted a low bid of $39,489, according to Friends of Crawford Town Hall representative Susan Hansen. The Friends organization also has credits of $881 with Ridgway from work it completed earlier as part of the more than $1 million town hall historical restoration and remodeling project, for a revised estimate of $38,608.

The estimate includes purchase of a range, refrigerator and sinks. A dishwasher and hood system have already been purchased. Completion of the kitchen's work area and shelves is also estimated at $7,750, which brings the total cost to $48,358. Funding will come from the roughly $50,000 they have to spend, including Department of Local Affairs grant money remaining from the original project, which the group would rather spend now than lose, said Hansen. The Friends also has a small amount remaining, as well as money remaining from the town's share of the project. The remodel is the final project scheduled for the historic Town Hall building, formerly the Crawford School, which is listed on the national and state registers of historic properties.

Hansen said she wanted to be transparent with the town about how tight the budget is. The Friends group met with Ridgway representatives to ensure that every part of the project was addressed, and spoke to the state health department to ensure that health standards for a commercial kitchen were met. "We wanted to make darn sure that we weren't going to have some change orders," said Hansen. If any additional costs to arise, the Friends believe they could raise funds to cover them.

Completion is expected by the end of the year, said Hansen, marking the end of the project, and eight years since it was first proposed. "Hopefully we'll have a celebration," said Hansen.

In a discussion on employee health insurance, due to fast-rising insurance coverage costs and uncertainty in the future of insurance rates, trustees approved removing the health insurance benefit for its two full-time employees, public works director Bruce Bair and department assistant Al Boyd. The town had been purchasing Boyd's insurance coverage, and Bair had been receiving a stipend. So as not to take away the spirit of the benefit, council voted unanimously to approve adding $750 to their monthly salary. The town's employee handbook will be changed to reflect that full-time benefited employees will not receive insurance benefits, and that salary compensation will allow them to purchase insurance on their own. The amount will be subject to all applicable income taxes; salaries will be re-visited annually during fall budget discussions.

Since the benefit is subject to taxation, council discussed the possibility of creating a health savings account using pre-tax dollars, but that would limit employees to $3,150 per year, far short of the current insurance benefit, said Bair.

Council also said goodbye to town clerk Toby Stephenson, who replaced long-time clerk Jackie Savage last June. Lee Ann Goddard will replace Stephenson effective immediately. Savage, who held her position from August, 2010, until June when family matters forced her to resign, attended the meeting and thanked town representatives for their service. "I can't tell you how much I appreciated all of you when I was here, and I'm going to miss you all so very much," said Savage.

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