Following almost three months of special meetings, budget hearings and public input, the Town of Paonia passed a balanced 2016 budget and ordinances for water, sewer and garbage rate increases at its Dec. 8 meeting of the board of trustees.
All ordinances, which were passed under emergency measures, were required to pass by a three-fourths majority, and fee increases will be retroactive to Dec. 1.
All three ordinances reflect changes recommended by town attorney David Marek to explain that they are being passed as emergency ordinances "in order to meet financing and debt services" of the town; "to avoid a deficit operating position"; and to allow "for capital reinvestment and maintenance costs..."
Berry defended board actions when Bill Brunner, a former trustee, suggested during the public comment period on the emergency water ordinance that rate increases are unnecessary. Brunner has been critical of the town and the board in recent months and suggested that the budget is filled with non-required expenses, in particular, the replacement of about half the town's water meters with more accurate remote-read meters. If money left over from loans related to recent upgrades projects were returned rather than being spent on unnecessary repairs, said Brunner, debt service would be lower and rate increases would not be necessary.
Berry defended the increases, stating that the system is "riddled with problems." Upgrades, as well as "tons of deferred maintenance" have been put on hold until the town "can generate enough income to begin to tackle them," said Berry. The town's first interest is in addressing public health and safety, and meter replacement, while necessary to ensure everyone is charged the correct usage amount, is low priority at this time and will be funded in part by volume consumption rate increases.
The ordinance passed on a 5-1 vote, with trustee Suzanne Watson casting the dissenting vote. Upon the motion to adopt the emergency garbage ordinance, Watson stated she will also vote against the remaining two ordinances and the resolution to adopt the 2016 budget. Regarding ordinances, Watson, said the town has known about possible increases for a year and has had "ample time to look into it."
No comment from trustees or the public was offered upon Eric Goold's motion to adopt the emergency sewer system ordinance.
Resolution 2015-15 to adopt the 2016 budget also passed on a 5-1 vote. Watson said she can't see why the town budgeted $38,000 for the auditing firm of RubinBrown, and called the amount "excessive... because this is the most expensive audit this town has ever had." Watson added that there is no budget for a town clerk or chief of police, as required by state statute.
Trustee Eric Goold commented that he is "content current staff adequately fills those positions," and that the budget is "great," thanks in large part to the auditing services performed by RubinBrown in 2015.
Berry thanked staff and trustees for their dedication in creating a balance budget and called its passage "a huge step toward regaining the town's financial solvency and beginning to put in place policies that are going to shape the future of this community in a very positive way."
Trustees unanimously voted to adopt the resolution levying general property taxes for 2015. The total assessed valuation of $12, 320,386 reflects a modest $29,000 increase in total assessed valuation provided by the Delta County Assessor back in August when the process began, said Berry, but no change in the mill levy, certified at 8.322 mills by the Board of County Commissioners. Projected property tax revenues are $103,243.
The budget and related documents can be downloaded from the town website, townofpaonia.com, and can be viewed at Town Hall during regular business hours.
During the meeting, trustees approved a change order for contractor Spiegel Industrial, which is performing repairs on the 1 million-gallon tank. Spiegel will relinquish 50 percent of the total contract retainage amount of $17,679 to the town.
The town also approved a special event liquor license application for the Rotary Club of the North Fork Valley for an event scheduled for Jan. 30 at 138 Grand Ave.
Trustees, Berry and town attorney David Marek went into executive session prior to adjournment for the purpose of discussing the personnel mater of Berry's performance evaluation and compensation.
The board will meet at a special meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 29 to close out the year's expenses. In addition, the town will renew its North Fork River flow gauge station contract with the U.S. Geological Survey.