The Sopris Sun

Trustees pick Henry for vacancy, Byars abstains

By John Colson

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

Heather Henry — a long-time member of Carbondale’s Parks & Recreation Commission and the Planning and Zoning Commission, and well-regarded local businesswoman — was chosen by the town board of trustees (BOT) on Tuesday night to replace recently-departed trustee A.J. Hobbs on the board.

Henry, according to statements made at the meeting, will be sworn in on Sept. 27.

Her selection — she was nominated by Trustee Ben Bohmfalk, with a second by Trustee Marty Silverstein — was approved by a 4-0 vote, although there were five at the meeting: Frosty Merriott, Acting Mayor Dan Richardson, Katrina Byars, Bohmfalk and Silverstein.

Byars abstained from voting because, in her words, “this process doesn’t feel right to me.”

Byars, who is running against Richardson and former trustee Ed Cortez to become the town’s next mayor in the November election, had not publicly expressed such concerns prior to Tuesday’s meeting.

At Tuesday’s BOT meeting, however, she echoed a charge made by Cortez at a previous BOT meeting.

She said the selection process is “so different than an election, that it doesn’t feel … it just feels out of balance for me. I wasn’t comfortable with it from the beginning.” She decided to go along without voicing her objections, she continued, and agreed to cast a ballot if necessary to break a tie vote.

Her decision to abstain did not sit well with some of her fellow trustees.

“I personally don’t think it’s appropriate to abstain,” said Richardson, “but that’s your choice.”

Bohmfalk, who already had nominated Henry, added that while he “respects” Byars’ disagreement with the process, he felt “it’s your responsibility to get involved … and influence that process” rather than back away at the last minute.

Byars expressed concern that, after interviewing the last two of the six candidates to fill Hobbs’ vacancy, the board ended up “moving directly to a nomination” without discussion among the trustees.

“I felt like we were going to talk about it,” she said.

After Richardson expressed his assessment of the different candidates for Hobbs’ vacant position, he stated his support for Bohmfalk’s motion to select Henry, and the board voted to approve.

Budget blues

Earlier in the meeting, the trustees had heard from Town Manager Jay Harrington and Finance Director Renae Gustine that Carbondale is facing shortfalls in some of its revenues for the coming year. Harrington told the trustees that an expected annual payment from Garfield County of roughly $175,000 — Carbondale’s portion of the county’s road and bridge property tax revenues, which is shared among the six towns in the county — will be cut to about $95,000 in 2017 after the county commissioners unilaterally slashed the tax rate for the road and bridge fund.

Harrington said the tax rate — reduced from 3.5 mills to 1.5 mills — was cut because the county had accumulated roughly $30 million in unspent road and bridge funds, and the commissioners felt the tax rate should be cut as a result.

At the same time, Harrington reported, the town can expect lower revenues from federal mineral lease fees and severance taxes tied to the oil and gas industry, due to sharply reduced drilling activities in the area known as the “gas patch” in western Garfield County.

And, Harrington said, the town is likely to pay considerably higher health-insurance costs for its employees in the coming year.

“On the good-news side,” he told the trustees, Carbondale’s sales tax revenues have been trending at about five percent higher than in 2015, which is somewhat better than the four-percent increase projected in the town’s budget.

Still, Harrington said, it is likely that the town will have to dip into its reserve funds in order to accomplish any capital improvements projects in the coming year.

Gustine told the trustees there will be greater details available about the budget after the town department heads submit their departmental budgetary goals and requests in the coming weeks.

Currently, according to budget projections, the town expects to have a General Fund balance of roughly $5.3 million at the end of 2016, having spent about $6.7 million in the General Fund (which covers day-to-day operations) for the year.

Overall, the 2016 budget anticipates a total ending-fund balance of about $15 million, including about $6.8 million in dedicated funds for water and sewer service, and several other fund accounts.

In other action, the board:

• Approved a “letter of engagement” for Mark Chain Consulting, to assist the town in swapping town-owned land in the Overlook and Delaney Park area north of Town Hall, for a newly created shelf of private land, owned by the Nieslanik family, at the western end of the White Hill Cemetery. The swap is being structured to allow the town to expand the cemetery onto the newly created parcel, which was built up using fill dirt trucked from development projects elsewhere in the valley;

• Approved liquor license renewals for the City Market grocery store and the Black Nugget saloon;

• Approved a modification of the town’s anti-loitering ordinance to eliminate language aimed at keeping vagrants from begging for money from passersby. The provision was tagged as unconstitutional by the American Civil Liberties Union, along with similar provisions in anti-loitering laws in other towns in Colorado;

• Approved a special-event liquor license for the No Man’s Land film festival, scheduled for Sept. 24 from 6-9 p.m. at the Carbondale Community School;

• Relaxed town codes prohibiting the grazing of goats (believed to date back to the 1940s) to accommodate plans by the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority to employ goats to control weeds along the Rio Grande Trail between Aspen and Glenwood Springs.

Published in The Sopris Sun on September 15, 2016.