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Staff submits $6.2 million budget for 2016

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By John Colson

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

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Town officials are honing in on the final preparations for Carbondale’s proposed 2016 budget, which calls for expenditures of slightly more than $6.2 million in the general fund, which covers the town’s day-to-day operating expenses.

At a budget hearing on Tuesday, Finance Director Renae Gustine laid out a general-fund plan divided up between several departments, with roughly 65 percent of the money going for personnel costs.

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Overall, according to a chart included with the documents provided to the trustees, the general fund’s proposed $6.2 million is only slightly below the total estimated expenditures for 2015, which are expected to come in at $6.3 million once the current budget year is closed out.

But this year’s expenditures are expected to fall well below those of 2014, which amounted to about $7.4 million, partially reflecting the town’s additional expenses last year with regard to the recently completed improvements to Highway 133.

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Historically, the town’s budget hovered around the $5.6-million to $5.8-million mark from 2009 through 2012, and rose to about $6.1 million in 2013 as the local economy started to rebound from the Great Recession of 2008-09.

According to a pie chart included in the budget documents, the largest share of the general fund, about 30 percent, goes toward Public Safety, mainly the police department; another 30 percent pays for public works; 19 percent pays for administration services; 12 percent of the budget is earmarked for administration; and nine percent goes for the planning department.

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In a memo to the trustees, Gustine reported that the town’s revenues came in higher than expected for 2015, by just over seven percent, which goes along with the town’s tendency toward very conservative budget projections from year to year.

For 2016, according to the memo, the town’s revenues are estimated to rise by at only about 1.5 percent. Gustine said that figure reflects the town’s expectation that money from mineral severance taxes and mineral lease fees, which have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to the town’s coffers, are expected to decline severely next year.

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Among the projected expenses for 2016, Gustine’s paperwork indicated, the town anticipates a three-percent Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA), representing a raise for town workers.

For the trustees themselves, the town expects to pay $12,600 for a raise recently approved by the board, which will go toward nine months’ worth of salary checks for the three trustees who win election in the May, 2016 election. In all, according to Gustine, the budget calls for spending more than $135,000 in operations behind the board of trustees.

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Some specific increases noted by Gustine, regarding the board of trustees, are to include new chairs for the audience in the board of trustees’ meeting room ($4,150), and upgrades to the town’s system for broadcasting meetings to cable television viewers (approximately $25,000), among other planned expenses.

But the biggest tap into the general fund will be about $500,000 to be transferred to the Capital Construction Fund to pay for capital improvements.

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That fund is expected to pay for such things as $100,000 in “energy funding,” meaning the money the town pays toward energy-efficiency programs managed by Garfield Clean Energy and the Community Office of Resource Efficiency. The town also pays membership fees to GCE and CORE, amounting to a total of $50,000.

In addition, Gustine’s documents indicate, the town expects to pay out $250,000 in matching funds to supplement grants intended to help pay for streets projects, specifically on Village Road and Meadowood Drive.

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On the revenue side, Gustine noted that the income derived from the town’s operating cannabis shops and facilities is expected to decline next year.

“We’ve already seen a slowdown,” she said, explaining that it is believed that the growth in the number of cannabis shops up and down the valley has had a negative effect on the shops located in Carbondale.

So, Gustine reported, while the income from cannabis taxes to the town is already at about $40,000 for the nine months of 2015, the income for the entirety of 2016 is only expected to reach $40,000 total.

As the budget process continues through October and November, noted both Gustine and Town Manager Jay Harrington, the trustees need to keep in mind that the budget currently is exactly balanced between revenues and expenditures.

Any changes or additions made by the trustees in one part of the budget, Harrington said, will need to be offset by countervailing changes in other parts of the budget, if the document is to stay in balance.

Published in The Sopris Sun on October 15, 2015.