Citing budget woes, the Basalt Town Council voted unanimously to halt plans to purchase a proposed site for a Public Works Maintenance facility.
The proposed purchase, although initially recommended for approval, was approved in early February, before the COVID19 pandemic took hold of the country, noted Mayor Bill Kane.
The sales contract, which was signed Feb. 2, permits termination of the agreement for the property on Highway 82 in Eagle County. Instead, council voted to continue discussions until the next meeting, Tuesday, May 26. Council staff will determine if a lease or lease/buy agreement with the seller is feasible and in line with town’s priorities.
During the public comment portion, Stacey Kraft said she was concerned that taxpayers won’t get to see the appraisal price until after the purchase is finalized. She also encouraged the town to use a buyers’ broker, noting the sales contract had been written by the seller’s agent.
Also, the Basalt Economic Recovery Task Force took center stage as Kane reported constructive discussions with retail community leaders, as many are working hard to help mitigate COVID19.
“Everyone’s adjusting,” Kane said, noting there is a push on to focus on the “drive market” of visitors and second home owners, as “People don’t seem to want to fly.”
Restaurants, in particular, need assistance, council agreed. Member David Knight wants to look at expanding outdoor dining under a partial reopening order expected to be approved by Colorado Governor Jared Polis when he revisits the restrictions on May 26.
The biggest stumbling block may be state liquor laws, council agreed. Willits business owners are looking for a change to become an entertainment district, where open liquor carry could be allowed.
Town Councilor Elyse Hotell stated that lodging, wellness and salons are struggling with mask requirements and pointing to studies that show wearing a mask during exercise limits breathing.
Basalt, situated at the intersection of three counties, could be served better if, as Hotell said, “We could have more autonomy as a valley.”
She urged closer coordination among the three entities.
Bring back Basalt Bucks?
Kane then described several ideas to help the commercial community. First is bringing back the 2008-2009 program, which allowed people to buy $100 worth of spending power at a significant discount. Businesses would accept the bucks for face value and then be reimbursed by the town.
Another proposal looks at state liquor laws and whether some restrictions can be eased and consumption areas expanded..
Town Manager Ryan Mahoney expressed a common goal, “We need to get the restaurants back open.”
Kane, responding to calls to get a town-supported shuttle service between major areas including downtown, Southside and Willits at no cost to riders. This could be about a $60,000 outlay by the Town.
Kristy Hamrick, Town financial director, in the meeting’s financial reporting section, spoke about an unexpected $70,000 increase in March’s sales tax revenue and felt Basalt was doing relatively well financially even as some revenues are down.
“We were boosted by a large building permit payment from Aspen Ski Company,” Hamrick explained.
In an effort to help residents who are unemployed and unable to put food on the table or pay rent, council is looking to jumpstarting a program that hires them to work with Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers on a temporary basis. This could mean a Town outlay of $75,000.
Eagle County Emergency Manager for COVID-19, Birch Barron, discussed the overall results of testing: “At one point the percentage of positive results was up to 42 percent. Now it’s down to 5.5 percent.”
Council also approved the Basalt Public Arts Commission (BPAC) selections for its granting program and also to add a new program called the Basalt Artist Relief Fund. The four selections include:
• The Art Base (TAB): for $20,000 over two years for general operating support. In a letter to council, Sky Skinner, Art Base interim director, explained, “It is increasingly clear that, especially amidst times of enormous change or crisis, art matters,” adding “This crucial support will allow The Art Base to continue providing free art for all, which by definition is public art.” Plus a proposed Artists Relief Program would help artists who live or work in the 81621 zip code.
• Hudson Reed Ensemble: $3,000 to support the 2020 Shakespeare in the Park summer production of Macbeth. This grant, Director Kent Reed said, “would help tremendously with the persistent problem of not having sufficient funding to advertise, provide adequate costumes, construction set pieces,” and more.
• Artist Year, an organization designed to close art education gaps by funding two teaching artists for Basalt schools.
• The Arts Campus at Willits received funds for “Pumpkin Jazz” in October. “This free event at multiple locations, will once again bring our community together for world-class jazz performances in unexpected places,” noted Executive Director Ryan Hunter.