Paonia trustees faced down a lengthy pre-Thanksgiving Holiday agenda on Nov. 23 by approving the 2022 budget with conditions; passing a controversial water rate hike and appointing a permanent Mayor Pro-tem.
Mayor Mary Bachran opened the public hearing on the proposed budget. The hearing, which at times became heated, lasted for over an hour as town staff presented the latest iteration of the document for board and public deliberation.
“In municipal budgeting, we budget expected revenues with expected expenditures. So, we have the revenue to pay for the expenditures,” reported Town Finance Officer Cindy Jones.
She said increases in the 2022 budgeted expenditures were generally reflected in areas where the town had been saving over the years to pay for projects such as the Third Street project. The total 2021-22 budget was set at $6.58 million dollars.
There was a lengthy discussion on how town staff derived the 44% increase in the budget over last year’s budget. Trustee Tamie Meck sided with members of the public who contended that the budget increase was more along the lines of 79%.
Jones refuted the percentage that was suggested by Meck. She said the number to be calculated was on the actual 2020-21 budget and not on the estimated actuals for that year.
“The calculation is actually on the 2020-21 budget to the 2021-22 budget is where you get the 44% increase from budget to budget,” Jones said.
Six individuals spoke during the public hearing with some still questioning the percentage amount that the budget had increased from the previous year. Others asked for more details to be placed in the transmittal letter regarding medical and retail marijuana sales and Back-the-Badge funds.
Following public comment, Town Administrator Corinne Ferguson gave the board an opportunity to make changes to the proposed budget. She said the changes, if any, would come back to the board on Dec. 14 for final approval.
There was an attempt to force the budget process back to the drawing board by one board member.
“Madam Mayor I move to reject the 2021-22 budget draft budget in its entirety because it would be fiscally irresponsible for the board to adopt it without a clear plan in place,” offered Meck.
The motion died for the lack of a second, bringing additional comments from the board regarding the controversial budget. Trustee Dave Knutson spoke about the ‘dire need to focus on water’ asking that the town consider forgoing some of the capital expenditures.
Trustee Karen Budinger said she felt that the public had made it clear that they wanted the board to focus on water and streets for the foreseeable future. She said the draft budget reflected both issues.
A motion to accept the budget as presented with changes to the transmittal letter to include more detail on areas of citizen’s concerns and the recommendation that the board hold two half day planning sessions to take place in January passed.
Meck, sticking with her convictions, voted not to approve the 2022 budget calling the entire process “cursed from the beginning.”
In addition to passing the budget, trustees approved a resolution to increase in-town water rate by $5 from $32 per month to $37 for each residential customer service account and from $42 to $47 per month for each commercial customer service account.
The basic out-of-town water rate will increase from $42 per month to $47 for each residential customer service account and from $57 per month to $62 for each commercial customer service account.
According to the resolution before the board, “rates levied for water services must be calculated to meet the cost of providing water services, including maintenance, capital reinvestment, and related debt service to avoid deficit spending.”
Prior to making the motion to increase the water rates, Trustee Knutson addressed the board and public.
“I am overly influenced by the RCAC report that we had about looking down the road in the long term, about what is needed in our water system and how deficient we have been over the years in looking at our reserves. They recommended a much higher rate than what we are doing, and I do recognize that it is a hardship for low income people and that there is a mechanism for people who are having trouble with the bills to come into town and get help with that.”
With the resignation of Trustee William “Bill” Bear, the board made a unanimous decision to officially appoint Trustee Knutson to fill the position until the April election.
“I would like to suggest that Mr. Knutson be appointed by the board as the Mayor Pro-Tem,” said Mayor Mary Bachran prior to the appointment.
During the last meeting, Knutson temporarily filled the position and had to chair the remainder of a very lengthy meeting when Bachran had to leave due to illness.
“I want to thank Mr. Knutson for stepping up. Losing Mr. Bear was a big loss and there’s some big shoes to fill, but it’s greatly appreciated, thank you,” Meck told Knutson.
In addition to the appointment of Knutson, the town council is accepting letters of interest to serve on the board. Letters of interest must be received no later than Thursday, Dec. 2 at 4:30 p.m. for review and appointments to be made at the Tuesday, Dec. 7 board meeting.
The board appointment will be active until the next general election held in April 2022. Applicants must have resided within the town limits for the last twelve consecutive months, be at least 18 years of age and be a registered elector.
Letters may be dropped off in person at 214 Grand Avenue, mailed to PO Box 460, Paonia CO, 81428 or emailed to Corinne@townofpaonia.com. Anyone with questions can contact town hall at 970-527-4101.
Lisa Young is a staff writer for the Delta County Independent.