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Not much wiggle room as Crawford trustees talk budget

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The voters of Crawford will have a large voice in what next year's town budget will look like. On this year's ballot, the town is seeking an increase in its mill levy, looking to replace shrinking severance mineral taxes from the coal industry. If approved, the town expects around $14,000 additional revenue to work with, giving them the ability to plan projects beyond a "bare bones" budget of basic maintenance and operating expenses.

As trustees sat down to discuss the first draft of the 2018 budget at their regular meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 4, public works director Bruce Bair outlined the numbers put together by him and town clerk Cally Gallegos.

"The projected budget is based on this year's expenses, with inflation, and not a whole lot of wish list," began Bair. "This is a bare bones beginning ... we have a couple of months to look over the numbers and talk about things."

A little later in his presentation, Bair said, "We are trying our best to balance the budget without spending any unnecessary money. Now is the time to look at some areas that could use some more resources."

For 2018, the town is budgeting $103,007 in revenue to the General Fund, with $92,220 in expenses in its general fund. Bair noted general fund revenue in 2017 will be just over $106,000 and for next year the town expects to see a drop in coal-related revenue.

It was noted that the BLM's approval of the Bull Mountain gas plan for 140 gas wells by SG Interests could have a positive impact, although it could be several years before the town realized any real impact from production.

The general fund is where the basic operations of the town are budgeted. Bair quickly explained the various line items, beginning with salary and payroll expenses. He said the payroll and some other expense items are divided between the three major funds -- general, water and sewer -- to more accurately assign the expenses proportionately. Other items in the general fund include accounting services, memberships, donations and council payroll ($30 per meeting for each trustee). Maintenance of town hall and the park are also in the general fund budget.

Bair was asked about the $1,000 for park maintenance. He explained this cost of such things as sprinkler heads, replacement of benches and picnic tables and general maintenance of the grounds. He added, "We don't have to replace many things, although we had to chain benches to trees. We've had creative spirits moving them around, arranging them in pyramids . . ."

The building maintenance budget is beginning at $3,000. Bair said this is an area to look at, if there is a little extra money. "We have a nice building and it takes regular money to keep it functioning . . . it would be better to have an annual maintenance plan, which is not budgeted at this time."

As proposed, in 2018 the water fund expects revenues of $86,000 plus another $8,200 set aside for reserve. Expenses for the year are anticipated to be $78,000. "Again, this budget is to maintain, sustain and the necessities, and not wants," said Bair.

He did point out there was a room to be less conservative in the water budget, and he offered a wish list that included a security fence around the chlorine treatment plant, and a budget to replace the meter "cans" on a systematic basis. These units cost about $800 each, and Bair would like to replace four or five aging units each year.

The proposed sewer fund has little "wiggle room," with anticipated revenue of $91,750 and expenses of $91,620. Bair explained the "big ticket" items are electricity -- $13,000 for electricity to run the treatment plant and pumps -- and preventative maintenance. He told trustees that grease in the sewer lines is an ongoing problem and if left unmanaged results in big plugs in the line. Baby wipes are causing "havoc." They don't biodegrade and create problems for their pumps.

"There is not a lot of wiggle room in this fund," said Bair. "I don't see where I can cut anything more. It's what we need to maintain and operate the system."

The town is not planning any capital projects for 2018.

As the trustees commented on items during the discussion, they often pointed out how important the citizens understand the 2018 budget is very conservative. It was pointed out often that the town was being prudent and conservative with tax dollars, without spending extra money, and putting some important projects such as the fencing around the chlorine plant on hold.

Mayor Wanda Gofforth suggested the trustees "absorb" the budget numbers and be ready to discuss it at the work session, scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 18, beginning at 7 p.m.

Later in the meeting, the trustees discussed an "educational" mailing to voters on the proposed mill levy increase. Mayor Gofforth asked if the mailing should be a full sized flyer or simply a postcard, which would save on cost. Trustee Chris Johnson had drafted a letter, explaining the talking points from the town's position:

• the mill levy increase to 7.42 from 2.42 brings it back to its level in 1996.

• the increased tax level is needed to replace mineral lease and severance tax reductions, which have dropped $26,692 from 2014 levels.

• the increase would bring in approximately $14,000, still less than the other declines in revenue.

• there will be no funds from the mill levy increase to fund or support a municipal court. A municipal court would have to be self-supporting.

• the mill levy increase of 5 mills would increase the average property owners tax by $53.

Town clerk Cally Gallegos noted the town had paid for the mailing, and provided the pro and con statements, on a flyer put out last week by the Delta County Elections Office.

It was decided the town's position has been communicated to voters, and it was unnecessary to spend money on another mailer.

There was an exchange between trustees and several folks in attendance about the ballot question. Cheryl Page suggested that people would support the increase, but do not support a municipal court. Several trustees responded to her, assuring her that the increase would not fund a municipal court. Mayor Gofforth said if a municipal court were established, it would be self-supporting. Trustee John Patton noted the board has not discussed establishing a municipal court.

In recent meetings the board has discussed the concept of using district court as means to enforce its nuisance and proposed marijuana ordinances. At one point during last week's meeting, John Paton stated that "without any way to enforce our ordinances, there is no purpose for the council to exist. How do we enforce ordinances . . . there is a need for a court." Gofforth responded, "The (proposed) ordinance outlines a process involving district court, without the need for a municipal court."

Trustee Mike Tiedeman encouraged those in the audience to "keep passing the word about what this [mill levy increase] is about . . . we are just trying to maintain the town."

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