At the Feb. 28 board meeting, Paonia trustees passed a resolution endorsing the submittal of a full application for participation in the statewide Space to Create program. Space to Create is a state-led initiative aimed at creating work spaces and affordable housing for a broad range of artists and related businesses.
While trustees said they largely support the concept, the town cannot support a commitment of $35,000 in matching funds required to pay for feasibility and arts market studies. Those studies will help the selection committee choose one community within the Region 10 area for participation in the program and access to a share of some $45 million in public and private funding. Because the Colorado Department of Local Affairs is providing funding, the lead applicant must be a unit of local government.
Space to Create was first brought before the board last September. The issue has raised eyebrows over concerns about whether the town should use taxpayer money to support housing for artists, which some said was discriminatory. The town received 16 letters from the public in support of participation in the program, including one from the Delta County Board of County Commissioners and two letters opposing it.
The concern is that the money isn't in the 2017 budget, explained Mayor Charles Stewart. In looking at the 2018 budget, it's impossible to know the status of the town's future finances.
The town's 2017 budget transmittal letter calls for $40,000 to be set aside for economic development. Believing the money would qualify for matching funds, the board moved ahead with its support of a letter of intent to apply. The board then learned the money, which was allocated from the general fund to the capital projects fund, is restricted to water, sewer, sidewalk and road improvement projects, and would not qualify for use in the studies.
The resolution passed, 4-0, after it was amended to remove the town's commitment to the matching funds. The amendment states that the money set aside in 2016 for capital improvements is limited, and therefore, the town can't commit the $35,000 for feasibility and market studies. However, the town supports the project and believes the funds may be raised through public sources and will make all efforts to help raise those funds.
Trustees Bill Brunner and Suzanne Watson, who have largely supported the initiative, recused themselves from the vote. "I'm a potter. I'm a leather worker, and I feel that I could profit from this; therein lies my conflict," said Watson.
Brunner, a metal artist and owner of Paonia Iron Works, said that as the owner of a creative business he sees himself as a model of those who might benefit from a program like Space to Create. He said he might also be interested in using his work space for start-up businesses.
Without the two votes in favor, the board would have been split between supporters Karen Budinger and Chelsea Bookout and opponents Bill Bear and Mayor Pro Tempore David Bradford. Realizing that a tie vote was imminent, Stewart said he'd be more inclined to vote in favor of the resolution if the application clearly stated the town supports the program, but that it can't commit to the matching funds.
The full application is due March 16.
The board also passed an ordinance codifying the 2014 town marijuana retail legalization referendum (Measure 2B). The ballot question asked voters if they want to legalize operation of retail marijuana establishments and was voted down, 417-366. The ordinance was not passed and properly published following the election.
Trustee Suzanne Watson asked if the ordinance is "basically some housekeeping, something that was never taken care of?"
"Yes, it's just basic housekeeping," said Mayor Stewart. "You can't enforce a referendum" until there is an ordinance in place for the town to enforce.
Trustee Brunner abstained from voting. "I wouldn't touch this one with a 10-foot pole, myself," said Brunner. "I think to call it 'housekeeping' is a real euphemism. I don't understand how we could have a vote that was ... such a big deal in this town and then wait years to enact an ordinance that was required."
Bradford said the board has dealt with "a number of those issues" as they worked through updating of the town code, some dating back as far a 2004. "We're going to run into those kinds of things, and I think that this is just another example of that."
The seventh annual Eckert Crane Days, the annual viewing of the sandhill cranes migrating north from New Mexico through Colorado's West Slope, will be March 16-18. Representatives from the Black Canyon Chapter of the Audubon Society (BCAS) will be at the viewing site east of Eckert at Fruitgrowers Reservoir, 9 to 11 a.m. each day, to answer questions and provide binoculars and spotting scopes.