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Three-year program could reshape Crawford government

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The Crawford Town Council was quick to accept an offer of assistance from the Department of Local Affairs, to help with the town's financial sustainability.

Kimberly Bullen, the northwest regional manager for DOLA, explained the three-year program during the council's regular meeting of Feb. 7. Crawford popped up on her radar a few months ago when Bullen met with mayor Wanda Gofforth, town clerk Cally Gallegos and public works director Bruce Bair to discuss ways the state agency could help the town.

Bullen thought Crawford might be a good match for a three-year program focused on financial sustainability. The agency would provide technical assistance to look at internal policies, demographic indicators and other information to help craft a plan for the town to come up with best management practices and ways to maximize its resources.

She asked if the town council was interested in participating?

Chris Johnson replied, "You chose well!"

Each council member expressed support for participating, and unanimously approved a motion to participate.

During the discussion there was interest in finding ways to seek grant funding and for surveying the citizens on key issues.

Bullen noted that to begin the program, DOLA representatives will talk with staff and council to establish some idea of what they hope to achieve. "We will rely on you guys to say, 'This is where we need to start,' and then start working through some of these things."

When asked about matching funds, Bullen said, "We look at ways to make things work. We would like local matches for some things, often there are ways to leverage these dollars ... and if we are working with a truly disadvantage community, the match could be less than 50-50. It doesn't happen a lot, but we can see."

Also on the agenda was discussion of establishing a municipal court. Mayor Gofforth raised the topic during the January work session, and asked council members to think about it and be prepared to discuss it at the February meeting.

To open the discussion, Gofforth noted she had pulled information from council discussions in 2013 to get an idea of the costs. The known costs, such as judge, court clerk, sound system, forms, attorney fees, were estimated at more than $10,000. The revenue generated by the court would come from court costs of $25-35 and fines, which by ordinance cannot exceed $99 per violation.

She noted, "I don't see that we have the money to do that, or the violations which could sustain the costs of a municipal court."

"I don't think it will work," said Mike Tiedemman. "I've always said we don't have the number of violations to justify the cost."

Chris Johnson pointed out the latest nuisance ordinance (for marijuana) established a process to utilize district court to try violations. He suggested the town give this process a chance, and see how it works.

He also stated the town needs to work with people before taking them to court, to try to resolve problems before they escalate to court cases.

Council member John Patton complained about the cost estimates, and wanted better, updated estimates.

The top nuisance complaints in Crawford as odor, trash, dogs, and unlicensed or abandoned vehicles.. The discussion was testy at times as council members talked about personal experience with nuisance complaints. There was a general concensus that establishing a municipal court was not a feasible option. The council also did not have a clear idea of what the enforcement process should be -- from the initial complaint, the staff's response, education, and resolution.

Ultimately the council approved a motion to postpone further discussion until after the election, and after the town has selected a new attorney to replace the current town attorney. Jim Brown has announced his retirement from the position after decades of service. The town is actively soliciting bids, and is expected to look at these at its March meeting.

Later in the meeting, while addressing a letter complaining about barking dogs, the council instructed the town clerk to send a letter from the town to person with the problem dogs, and include a copy of the complaint letter.

Mike Tiedemann said to send the letter, and also send a letter to the neighbor instructing them to talk to each other.

"In reality, I don't see the town policy is to solve everybody's problem," said Tiedemann. "Knock on your neighbor's door, meet them, and talk to them."

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