As you read this, Paonia will have adopted a 2016 budget that, in the words of one trustee "is full of padding!" (They think this is good.) Starting in January,å utility rates will go up at least $18-20 monthly. In mid-year, rates will increase again, probably by $20 to $30 or more per household. Businesses will be paying much more than this and some may fold. Out-of-town users will also see disproportional increases.
The primary rationale offered is debt service on about $6 million in loans for state-mandated upgrades to the town's infrastructure. However, almost $3 million of this is over and above what the state required. It is not tied to any project. It was just such a good deal town hall couldn't pass it up. The payments on this money is an elective expense passed on to the people of the community.
Another elective expense in the new budget is $140,000 for new water meters, "the cash registers" of the town. They have based water rate increases on revenue from old faulty meters that tend to read low and are going to bill on higher readings from new meters. This amounts to a third rate increase. It could average another $4 month, but not all the existing meters are faulty, so the individuals that do see their usage go up can expect increases of double this or more. It's like roulette. No one will argue for faulty water meters, but Paonia is already changing meters out at a rate that will give us all a new one within a few years. The point is: The trustees could save $110,000 by keeping to the current program of meter replacement and return the loan money that is not already spent, and we wouldn't need any rate increases at all.
This is an example of the smoke and mirror manipulations that have close observers of town business grinding their teeth. The recent water breaks are a convenient excuse for town hall's mission to replace the entire town water system ASAP. This haste will result in much waste and rate increases over and above everything revealed so far. What no one other than Trustee Watson will tell you is, the big reason for all the recent water breaks (and water heater failures) is management of the system that has jacked the pressure in the lines far above anything they could be expected to handle. It's another self-inflicted wound. With proper management and the end of the current water projects, pressure will return to normal, and with it will go the extreme numbers of leaks.
There are more surprises revealed at the budget hearings. The money collected from the 1 percent sales tax that is supposed to pay for street repairs is going to be used for LED street lights, a tree survey in the park and maybe new vehicles. Third Street from Grand Avenue to the east end of town will be dug up to replace the water main. However, there is no plan to repave the street. Perhaps the idea is to get citizens to complain about dust from the gravel and then raise taxes, again, for paving. The citizens of Paonia are either going to quickly take an active interest in what their town government is doing or else keep writing those checks. Very soon town hall will have us locked into contracts that will leave us broke and dissatisfied for years to come. The super majority of the current town board just doesn't care how hard it is for you to pay your bills. They act like Paonia is one of those "fancy" towns. Truth is, we are looking at more layoffs and another long, cold winter.
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.