Update Sept 2015 – Budget, Homeless, and More!

I am five months into my four-year term of serving you as Councilor-at-large on Glenwood Springs City Council. It is a privilege to be a part of such a great city and I am honored to work with other city council members, city staff, local business and citizens to help guide Glenwood through the next three and a half years.  It is likely to be some of the best times that Glenwood has seen, as well as some of the most difficult. 

One of my election promises was better communication and I have not been as good at that as I had hoped.  So, to that end, as a start I plan to provide a monthly update that will include a brief description of meetings and events I have attended as well as a bit about one or more city departments.  Sometimes it may seem like nothing is happening and things do move more slowly than we all would like. But picture a duck on the Colorado River.  On the top, the duck looks calm and seems to be floating along, but below the surface, that duck’s feet are paddling like crazy.  So goes it with city hall.

Finance Department

Charles KeltySince we are deep into budget season, the first department I would like to highlight is the Finance Department, headed by Charles Kelty. Charles took over the reins from Mike Harman who retired earlier this year after 24 years as the Finance Director. Charles spent nine years as the finance director in Rifle and had a Master’s Degree in Accounting. Finance handles all of the city’s payroll, utility billing, tax administration, purchasing and building maintenance as well as making sure the city’s bills are paid and collecting funds owed to the city.

Staff includes Yvette Gustad, Assistant Finance Director; Ricky Smith, Purchasing Agent; Karen Bender, Janice Palacio, Linda Millyard and Candie Vandermark, all Senior Accounting Techs and Martha Gonzales and Elida Trujillo Solano the ladies who keep city hall sparkling clean. When you come to pay your utility bills or pick up a bus pass, these are the staff you see and are often the main contact for people dealing with city hall.

Taking the city through the budget process is no easy task and involves hours of the finance department’s time as well as a great deal of time from City Manager Jeff Hecksel and all department supervisors. Beginning Sept 29, the city will begin holding meetings with City Council, the Financial Advisory Board, and department heads to review the proposed budget, line by line. A schedule of these meetings is provided below. These are public meetings and the public is encouraged to attend.  A preliminary draft budget should be available on the City’s website when the budget work sessions begin.

Budget Work Session Schedule:

Sept 29 – 5pm -7 pm

Oct 8Special Meeting, DDA & Budget 6pm-9pm

Oct 154pm – 6pm

Oct 20Special Meeting 6pm-9pm

Oct 29Special Meeting 6pm-9pm

Nov 5if needed

All budget work sessions will be held in council chambers at city hall.

Monthly Update – meetings and events I attended

Grand Ave Bridge:  Met with representatives from Glenwood Springs Chamber, CDOT, DDA and city staff to discuss public information plans for the Grand Avenue Bridge Project August 27 2015.

Transportation Commission Sept 1, 2015:  I serve as the alternate council liaison to this commission.  Mayor Mike Gamba is the liaison.  Discussion items included the Blake Avenue Gate between Walmart and the RFTA BRT station on 27th as well as traffic calming measures on the residential streets in the downtown area.  Terri Partch, City Engineer and Geoff Guthrie, City Transportation Manager discussed the proposed multi-use path along Midland, from Lowes to Interchange 114, 27th Street Bridge and touched on RFTA’s Access Control Plan.  They updated on the Grand Avenue Bridge and 8th Street extension projects as well as discussing who will represent this commission on the Acquisitions and Improvement (A&I) tax working group.  The Transportation Commission is finalizing the Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) and determining next steps.  This commission always has a great deal to discuss and it seems like never enough time!

Ride-along with GSPD Sept 4, 2015:  I was privileged to be able to ride and walk with several officers from the police department  from 6 p.m. to about 2:30 a.m. It was a great experience, one I hope to do again. You can read more about my thoughts here.  My thanks to Officers Noel, Crawford, Cole, Gobbo, Miller, Dietrich, Yorty,  and Lawson as well as Code Enforcement Officer Springer, Detective Sergeant Hassell, and Patrol Sergeant Prough for putting up with all of my questions and taking the time to talk with me.

Colorado Municipal League (CML) District 11 Meeting in Silt Sept 9, 2015:  CML provides  training and information on issues of concern to counties and municipalities.  It is also a great chance to talk with other staff and elected officials from other communities in our area. Mayor Rick Aluise presented a wonderful powerpoint on the accomplishments that have taken place in Silt in the recent year.

Roaring Fork Transit Authority Board Meeting (RFTA) Sept 10, 2015:  I serve as the alternate council liaison to this board.  Mayor Mike Gamba is the liaison.  Discussion items included a presentation of the first draft of RFTA’s 2016 budget and an update of the Rio Grande Corridor Access Control Plan.  License for access to the Rio Grande Trail was granted to ACES Rock Bottom Ranch

Take Back Your Power Sept 10, 2015:  At the invitation of Marilyn Shettel, I attended a screening of a documentary “Take Back Your Power.”  It raised some interesting questions and I will be talking more with Ms. Shuttle in the near future.

We’ve Got Your Back!  Sept. 11, 2015:  This was a hastily thrown together “thank you” to area law enforcement and first responders in our region from Aspen to Parachute.  For being planned in less than 36 hours, it was well attended.  I have received requests from community members to turn this into an annual event and make it bigger. We’ll work on that!

Club 20 Fall Meeting Sept. 12, 2015:  This was my first Club 20 meeting and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing U.S. Congressman Scott Tipton and U.S. Senator Michael Bennet on things happening statewide and nationally. I also received lessons from Henry Sobanet, Governor Hickenlooper’s Budget Director on Colorado’s fiscal challenges and from Mark Hermundstad on water regulations and impacts on Colorado’s Western Slope. The networking was also wonderful!

Garfield County Economic Development Partners Sept 16, 2015:  This is a group of staff and elected officials from various entities throughout Garfield County that meet quarterly to review what is happening in Garfield County. RFTA presented their 2015 Travel Plan Study.  The roundtable is particularly useful to know what other communities are working on and to provide opportunities for partnership and coordination.

In addition we have had two City Council meetings which included a work session on the Confluence Area and a work session with the Planning and Zoning Commission.

***MARK YOUR CALENDARS***

Community Discussion: The Effect of the Growing Homeless & Vagrant Population in Glenwood Springs

Monday, October 5, 2015

6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Glenwood Springs Community Center

Coming up this week: 

Planning & Zoning Commission Meeting Tuesday, Sept. 22

City Staff Employee Picnic Friday, Sept 25 – City Hall closed from Noon to 2 p.m.

Fire Department’s Open House Saturday Sept 26!  The Fire Department’s Open House is always fun for all ages so come on down from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the downtown fire station at 8th & Cooper.

Board and Commission Openings:  apply here!

Planning and Zoning:  1 Alternate

River Commission: 1 Alternate

Victims and Witness Assistance & Law Enforcement Board (VALE): 1 Alternate

Board of Appeals: 1 Alternate

Parks and Recreation: 1 Alternate

Glenwood 2014 Budget = Priorities?

You have heard the idiom, “Put your money where your mouth is.” The Free Dictionary clarifies the idiom as “to support something that you believe in, especially by giving money.”  The City of Glenwood Springs 2014 budget has done just that. 

The 2014 adopted budget has been posted on the city’s web site. City_of_GWS_Logo City Council adopted this budget on November 7, 2013 and appropriated funds at their December 5, 2013 City council meeting.  Budgets and financials are generally dry, uninteresting reading to most, but it is a reflection of the city’s priorities, and as such, is worth at least an overview by the citizens.  

Tax supported funds are:

General Fund

Street Tax Fund– received from a one-half percent (1/2%) sales tax on transportation related projects and programs

Capital Projects Fund–received from a one-half percent (1/2%) sales tax

Bus Tax Fund– received from a two-tenths percent (2/10%) tax for operation of Ride Glenwood

Acquisitions and Improvements Fund (A&I) – –received from a one percent (1%) sales tax

Tourism Promotion Fund–– received from a two and a half percent (2 ½%) rent tax on accommodations. Expenses are restricted to tourism promotion

 

The General Fund – the fund containing most of the City’s operating expenses –  currently has a budgeted shortfall of $894,552. According to City Manager Jeff Hecksel’s budget message this is due primarily to:

  •  Increase in budgeted expenses of $604,302
  •  Mineral Lease revenue declined  $46,762
  •  Severance Tax receipts declined $189,737
  •  Voters passed the Fire Levy last November which increased property tax revenue by $267,062.
  • Sales tax receipts from 2012 were 14% less than actual receipts for 2008
  • For 2014 Sales tax revenue is budgeted at 2% over amounts budgeted for 2013

 

Budget_Pie_Chart_-_All_Funds 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the General Fund the following are budgeted for various functions:

  • General Government (Admin, HR, City Clerk, Elections, Finance, Data Processing, Legal, Judicial, Annexation – $3,303,470
  • Public Safety (Police & Fire)  $3,223,191
  • Community Development (Planning, Building Inspection) $670,313
  • Public Works (Engineering, Streets & Alleys)  $1,454,780
  • Parks and Recreation (Parks & Cemetery Maintenance & Recreation Programs) $3,191,978 

The Street Tax Fund, intended to maintain pedestrian and vehicular facilities as well as plan, design and construct new infrastructure has a budgeted deficit of $122,091. Budgeted projects include:

  • Street reconstruction associated with water line replacement at 29th and Sopris and Vista Drive
  • Continued work on South Bridge
  • Three Mile Creek Pedestrian Bridge $250,000
  • South Midland Engineering Scoping $100,000
  • Sunlight Bridge Repair $600,000
  • City-wide Transportation Plan Update $105,000

 

The Capital Projects Fund is used for major infrastructure projects and supports the special work activity team.

  • 8th Street Construction $1,000,000
  • Transfer to Water/Sewer Fund for debt coverage $800,000

 

The A&I Fund is used to defray the cost of acquisition, construction, installation and improvement and equipment of capital improvements.  There are three large projects budgeted for this year:

  • Maintenance Facility (MOC) repairs $600,000
  • Community Center Ice Rink Locker Rooms $750,000
  • Whitewater Park/RICD $300,000

 This is a very brief highlight of a 119 page document.  It is important to note that the City will not have preliminary actual figures for 2013 until March.  The official numbers will not be available until the audit reports are made available, generally in June. 

I would encourage you to look at the budget document available at http://cogs.us/budget/2014Budget.pdf   If you have questions, Mike Harman, the City’s Finance Director, is quite willing to answer them.  His email is mike.harman@cogs.us  

Tell me what you think.  Based on the budget, are the city’s priorities where they should be?  If not, what should be different?

 

Is Glenwood Springs A “Strong Town”?

Is Glenwood Springs a “Strong Town?”  Join Charles Marohn  from Strong Towns on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 6 p.m. at the Glenwood Springs Community Center to find out. It is FREE and open to the public.

Chuck Marohn, a professional engineer, is the President and Co-Founder of Strong Towns http://www.strongtowns.org/, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to “support a model for growth that allows America’s towns to become finamarohn6c7d87ncially strong and resilient.”  Strong Towns defines a “strong town” as a one that:

  • Must be near-term financially solvent
  • Must have a tax base and resources to cover long-term financial commitments
  • Must have sufficient age diversity so that population will be added at a rate greater than population is being lost
  • Must have sufficient economic diversity and vibrancy so that businesses are being added at a rate greater than or equal to the rate they are being lost.
  • Must have the courage and leadership to plan for long-term viability

From what I understand, the Strong Town concept places great emphasis on financial stability.  A strong town, as the web site states, must balance short term spending with long term savings and financial commitments.  So where does that leave Glenwood? Based on the preliminary budget the City of Glenwood Springs is facing a $999,247 shortfall in the 2014 General Fund.  Those numbers may have changed based on the November election results.  Unfortunately, the revised approved budget will not be available on the City of Glenwood Springs website until sometime next week, according to Finance Director Mike Harman.   The General Fund contains the majority of the operational cost for the city.  

According to City Manager Jeff Hecksel’s 2014 Budget Message memo to City Council in the preliminary budget work session, anticipated expenses, not including transfers, have increased 1.7% in the General Fund.  However, property taxes have declined by $93,445, mineral lease revenue has declined by $46,762, severance tax receipt declined by $189,737 and actual sales tax for 2012 was 14% less than receipts for 2008. 

Preliminary numbers for 2013 will probably not be available until at least mid February.  According to an article in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, http://www.postindependent.com/news/9680332-113/percent-sales-november-retail retail sales were up 2% through November, with the city collecting more than 12.8 million in sales tax through November.  banner_STorg_935-revised3

Another aspect of a strong town, according to Marohn and Strong Towns, is the ability to sustain its population.  The website asks the question, “When looking a generation to the future, is your town positions to grow leaders from within the community or will tomorrow’s leaders need to be imported?  Groups like the Sonoran Institute and Roaring Fork Leadership are helping to broaden that leadership base.  

Strong Towns also talks about a diverse economy, which is also a critical element of the city’s 2011 Comprehensive Plan.  Glenwood Springs has strongly relied on a tourism based economy, which has provided a consistent, fairly stable financial foundation, even through recessions.  Additionally, Glenwood remains a hub for government, healthcare and education. However, further diversification would be a benefit.   Strong Towns inquires, “Does your town allow for creative destruction, where non-competitive businesses are allowed to fail in a competitive free market?” 

Strong Towns questions whether our town has a long-term plan for success and whether community leaders understand and embrace the plan.  Marohn queries whether the members of the town engage in planning the community in a “broad and comprehensive way.”  What do you think?  Do you think that Glenwood Springs has a long-term plan for success? How does it, or does it relate to the Comprehensive Plan?   Do you know what the city’s goals are for 2014?  How well are our leaders engaged in the planning process and how could we improve?

I would encourage everyone who has an interest in their community to make an effort to attend this event sponsored by the Sonoran Institute http://www.sonoraninstitute.org/ and Healthy Mountain Communities http://www.hmcnews.org/ and the City of Glenwood Springs http://cogs.us/  Many thanks to these folks for bringing Strong Towns to Glenwood Springs!! 

And just a reminder that it is FREE and open to the public

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elevators, Ramps and the Bottom Line

City Council chambers were once again overflowing a little over a week ago.  Nothing seems to bring this town out like a bridge discussion.  The agenda item wasn’t the auto bridge, but again the discussion of the pedestrian bridge and the question was ramp or elevator to get people from 7th Street to the pedestrian bridge.  In the interest of full disclosure, I want to let everyone know that I sit on two city commissions, Planning and Zoning Commission and Transportation Commission that have weighed in on this choice.  Both of these commissions voted to recommend a ramp over an elevator for a number of reasons.  Neither commission had a unanimous vote. I have also recently been asked to join the Grand Avenue Bridge Project Leadership Team.

Option A - Elevator and Stairs

Option A – Elevator and Stairs

After weighing the information given up until now, I have been a proponent of a ramp for a number of reasons. While aesthetically I like the idea of an elevator, my concerns have been with the ongoing maintenance costs, the ability of the city to adequately provide ADA compliant alternatives during system failures, questionable liability issues, safety and sanitation issues. As one member of council pointed out, maintaining an elevator outside is a bit different than those housed within a building.  I questioned whether it was fiscally responsible for the city to step into an unknown. Oregon City, Oregon has an outdoor municipal elevator that has been in existence since 1915.  Recently the city of Springfield Massachusetts has elected to replace an elevator on their Connecticut River Walk Park with a ramp due to ongoing issues with the elevator. http://www.wggb.com/2013/07/05/elevator-out-ramp-in-for-river-walk-bridge/

Option B - Short Ramp

Option B – Short Ramp

My other concerns about an elevator over a ramp came primarily from a tourism and transportation standpoint, particularly because Glenwood Springs and the downtown area in particular, are at the heart of a truly unique trail system that attracts bicyclists nationwide. Frankly, I want a system that works well for them, including those bicycles pulling trailers.

The Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and many business owners, primarily those along 7th Street, but other businesses and citizens as well, came forward imploring City Council to “do the right thing” for Glenwood, for business, for those with disabilities. They indicated a ramp would inhibit the redevelopment of 7th Street and impact the view for years. Those advocating for the disabled thought the length and the grade of the ramp would be a hindrance to those who are physically challenged, particularly those in wheelchairs.

Option C - Long Ramp

Option C – Long Ramp

Leslie Bethel, Director of the DDA stated that she thought there were ways to manage the ongoing costs. Ok, now I am interested.  Currently the DDA has two revenue sources; property tax and sales tax through a TIF or Tax Increment Financing. The DDA also currently has outstanding loans to the City of Glenwood.  The 2014 City budget indicates revenues of $404,573 and expenditures of $1,471,378.  I asked Leslie what she had in mind as far as assisting the city with ongoing maintenance and she indicated the DDA will be meeting November 19th to discuss possibilities. So what are the options?

Colorado Springs has Special Improvement Maintenance Districts (SIMD).  These districts proved landscape maintenance for streetscapes, lighting, signage etc.  They also take care of snow removal in the winter month.  Pasadena California’s “Old Pasadena Management District”, is a non-profit business organization that “creatively plans, manages and develops Old Pasadena as a unique, authentic and vibrant downtown experience.”  They provide security, marketing and maintenance. The operations are financed through an annual tax assessment on privately owned commercial property.

City Council made no decision at their last meeting. They opted to continue the item and asked for some specific information including:

  • The cost of a lift versus an elevator
  • Could the city get two lifts for the price of one elevator?
  • Would a lift be large enough to carry a bicycle and a trailer?
  • Exactly what is CDOT willing/able to pay for?
  • A draft intergovernmental agreement (IGA) between CDOT and the City outlining the responsibilities for each for maintenance, repair, replacement, etc. of the pedestrian bridge, ramp and or elevator/lift.
  • The cost of ensuring that an ADA accessible van or bus would be available on very short notice
  •  What entities in the area could provide that service and would that also require an IGA?
  • What could the DDA do to help with funding of ongoing costs?
  • What additional city personnel services would be required of either a ramp, elevator or both including maintenance and security?
  • On what are the cost estimates in CDOT’s matrix based – where does the information originate and are there other comparatives?
  • Figures on operation and maintenance costs for both a ramp and an elevator/lift
  • More information on what is required of the ADA, particularly regarding routine maintenance, downtime, service requirements and response time for alternate methods should the elevator/lift be inoperable
  • Would like to see a rendering of dual lifts versus one or more elevators.

I would throw out one additional piece of information that is needed:

  • What is the city’s liability regarding elevator/lift versus a ramp?

After listening to the DDA and the business folks talk about the compelling need for an elevator and stairway combination – NOT a ramp, a few questions come to mind.  If this is truly the “will of the people” and will serve the best interests of the entire community, are the business and property owners within the DDA, GID, and/or the people of Glenwood Springs ready to step up to the plate to fund a redundant system, most likely two elevators or lifts as well as the ongoing insurance, maintenance, and safety expenses?  Is it up to the city to go above providing for the basic needs? If the DDA is already operating with a deficit, will they be able to take on additional expense necessary for operation of elevators/lifts?   Should the city consider some funding mechanism like a Transportation Utility Fee if the elevator is selected? Who will bear the burden of that expense?  Are there other solutions that have not been considered?  The bottom line is that we need to determine who pays for a great vision and doing the right thing.   What are your thoughts?