The situation in Paonia has become critical. A new audit of the town's finances has the trustees panicked. There are big changes ahead for people who use the town's water, sewer or trash, get building permits or are charged with infractions of the town's ordinances. The cost of all these things is about to skyrocket. For example, to raise revenue, a fee of $500 will be levied on any anyone wishing to approach the town for a variance. Beer permits for the park will cost almost twice what they cost in Telluride. There is a suggestion to "examine" the water rates at $1.35/1,000 gallons as this is less than half what a hand-picked list of other towns that average $3.35.
A majority of the trustees seem eager to do this. Some spoke of the impending bankruptcy of the town if these changes are not made, even though that word is not used in the audit report. It seems like an oversight that there is no effort to inform the citizenry about this situation, the rate increases or gather public input. These changes are being presented in bits and pieces, rather than as a comprehensive whole. It is legitimate to wonder if the sum total of these rate increases may drive some citizens on fixed incomes from the area. It will certainly cost us all. It may be that the town's finances are in such a mess that it will bankrupt us.
What seems odd is that the day before the auditor's report, the trustees were fine committing the town to hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars of debt for water tanks and carrying on with business as usual. Now a new auditor has switched the columns around in the town's books, and suddenly town hall is talking bankruptcy, staggering rate hikes and privatization of public assets. When big changes are instituted piecemeal as emergency measures, things seldom turn out well. The people of Paonia and the surrounding community deserve to be included in this discussion. The proposed changes should be presented honestly and in a comprehensive manner to all that may be affected. It seems the town is turning a rather large corner here and should slow this process down. We need a plan to get back on track, one that should be presented as a whole, and people should have time to discuss this and get back to the council with comments.
If things are as bad as they are presented, there should be several special meetings before these changes are voted in. As proposed, this will increase the cost of living here for years into the future. Time to get on down to the meeting. (Next council meeting is Tuesday, Sept. 22, 7 p.m.)