Hotchkiss facing budget shortfall in 2017

By Tamie Meck


Hotchkiss facing budget shortfall in 2017 | Hotchkiss

Photo by Tamie Meck Hotchkiss mayor Wendell Koontz holds a stainless steel holiday ornament at the Dec. 8 town council meeting. The ornament, which is heavier than it looks, was made earlier in the day by former trustee Dustyn Foster. It will join many ot

At the Dec. 8 meeting, Hotchkiss Town Council unanimously approved the three ordinances needed to pass the 2017 budget.

For the first time since she became town clerk, Marlene Searle said expenses exceed revenues. Trustees approved appropriations of $763,732 in general fund revenues -- $239,261 for general government, $286,588 for the police department, and $358,473 for public works -- and $884,322 in expenses. Appropriations were passed under an emergency ordinance so that the town can begin paying bills on Jan. 1.

Delta County certified the 2017 mill levy at 10.260 mills. Valuation of total taxable property within town limits dropped from $9,205,000 to $9,159,000, which is projected to produce tax revenue of $93,975.

With severance and mineral taxes not expected to recover, and the budget cut to a minimum, the town will need to find new revenue sources in the near future, said Searle. Council identified two areas, including proposing an increase in the city sales tax and increases in fees. About the only place left to trim expenses is in employee insurance cost, said Mayor Wendell Koontz. The 2017 budget approves more than $77,000 for health and life insurance benefits. That may require using a co-op or other system, which has been tried in the past and failed, said Koontz.

After two years of discussion, public hearings and countless edits, council tabled discussion on proposed amendments to mobile home regulations. With revisions to the master plan on the table for 2017, the town will soon have new data on citizen preferences regarding issues facing the town. "I don't think we're at a crisis point ... that we need immediate action," said Koontz.

Trustees have expressed disagreements on the age of units the town will allow for importation into the town. Recent drafts to the regulations have called for a maximum age of 25 years.

The regulations do need updating, said trustee Tom Wills, a member of the town planning commission. Two changes needed are the inclusion of the planning commission in the regulations and a clause allowing existing mobile homes to be grandfathered into the town, said Wills. Current regulations require that every mobile home manufactured prior to adoption of the 1976 HUD federal standards should be removed.

"It'll probably take us a good year to get the master plan done," said Koontz. That will give citizens ample time for public comment.

Trustees voted to forego their annual Christmas bonus and to lower the amount of full-time employee bonuses from $250 to $200. It's been a custom for council to provide town staff financial recognition for keeping the town running and holding expenses under control while still providing great services, said Koontz. "We certainly don't overpay our employees and this is a way we can recognize them for their hard work."

For several years council has voted to give full-time employees $250 in City Market gift cards and trustees a $50 card. The town switched to gift cards in lieu of cash because the cash left the community, said Searle. With gift cards the money generally stays in town.

"In light of our budget situation I think it's prudent that we think about those year-end bonuses," said Koontz in recommending a decrease of at least $50. While everyone works hard, "We are in a tight budget season." He recommended that trustees forego their bonus. The money will carry over to the 2017 general fund.

Trustees all agreed it's the right thing to do. "I'd give mine up," said Marta.

Council also unanimously approved liquor license renewal requests for Mahalo Beverages (Tri-R Liquors) and the Hotchkiss Elks Lodge No. 1807.