Crawford voters again said no to a tax increase in last week's election, forcing the town board to tighten an already austere budget. Work on that budget continued when the trustees met one day after 65 percent of the voters turned down a 5 mill increase in property tax which would have added $14,000 to the town's revenues.
The question received 94 votes against and 62 in favor. A total of 285 ballots were sent out, with just under 55 percent of registered voters participating. In 2016, a similar measure was voted down with 110 against and 101 in favor.
Before discussing the budget, the trustees considered a donation request for the Thanksgiving and Christmas community dinners in Hotchkiss. Former mayor Jim Crook reminded the trustees that a prior board had passed a resolution to eliminate donations. He was told by Mayor Wanda Gofforth that $200 had been budgeted for this year's community dinners. Hetty Todd moved, seconded by Jeff Peed, to contribute $200. The motion was approved, with trustees Mike Tiedemann and Chriss Watters opposed.
As the trustees considered areas to trim expenses, it was decided to eliminate all donations, cut park maintenance, and reduce vehicle and equipment maintenance. The tighter budget also means that proposed chip and seal treatments for roads will not be done. Public works director Bruce Bair said snow removal will be done, "but we will be limited in how long we will be staying out. We'll keep roads clear but after dark we will go home ... don't expect 24/7 on snow removal."
After adjustments, the general fund budget showed anticipated revenue of $103,007 and expenses of $98,993.52. The water fund is expecting revenues of $94,200, with expenses of $83,393.52 and $8,200 dedicated to reserves. The sewer fund is expecting revenues of $98,400, with expenses of $94,493.52 and $8,200 for reserves. The town will need to use its reserves to meet the sewer fund budget.
Trustee Jeff Peed noted, "This budget reflects that the mill levy [increase] did not pass. So we will not be doing chip and seal, so our roads will continue to be ratty until we can figure out how to get more money."
Bair, who was leading the budget discussion, said, "This is not an ideal situation ... There is an option to go into reserves, that is up to council to decide."
He then asked council to consider a pay raise for town clerk Callie Gallegos. "Her job is way more than she anticipated, way more than trustees understand," said Bair. "If we don't compensate the town staff fairly, we will have a revolving door with employees."
Mayor Wanda Gofforth suggested the budget would support an increase of $2.00 per hour.
Trustee Chriss Watters complimented the work of Gallegos before saying, "Because of the situation a raise is out of the question at this point in time."
Trustee Mike Tiedeman added, "...the town is now in a position to tighten its belt. I know it sucks . . . unfortunately the citizens of this town a have misconception of what the mill levy needs to be. We need to keep things the way they are and look at it next year."
As the trustees continued to talk about the possible salary increase, resident Carl Page started asking questions from the audience. The exchange quickly escalated to angry words between him, trustee John Paton and the mayor. Mayor Gofforth pounded her gavel, calling Page out of order. Page added a few snide comments and exited the meeting.
As things calmed down Mayor Gofforth said the trustees needed to put the mill levy question back for the April 2018 election, and asked for a motion.
Trustee Chris Johnson responded, "We need to give it time for things to quiet down, to consider the situation . . . I'm not going to decide this tonight."
Paton said, "If you are talking about fighting back, if we all of a sudden give the staff a pay increase, you are just going to those 94 people [who voted against the mill levy increase] more fuel."
Watters agreed, noting that in conversations around town, the reasons citizens voted against the tax increase because of employee salaries, money "dumped" into town hall and municipal court.
He asked trustee Chriss Watters to talk about the things he was hearing in conversations around town. Watters responded that residents are expressing concern about employee raises, money "dumped" into town hall, and municipal court.
As the discussion progressed, the trustees were not in agreement about municipal court, legal fees and codification. It because apparent they were not making any real progress when Mayor Gofforth asked, "Do we need another meeting this month?"
There was general agreement, and the town council would meet again on Wednesday, Nov. 15, to continue budget talks. A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for 6:45 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 6, followed by a regular council meeting.
On Tuesday, Sept. 11, the Delta County Board of Commissioners called a special meeting to consider the board's response to the Bureau of Land Management's preliminary Environmental Assessment (EA) concerning the lease parcels proposed for the December BLM sale.
Several people from the North Fork were present to provide input.