By Todd Hartley
Health, both the COVID-related kind and the fiscal kind, took center stage at Tuesday night’s Basalt Town Council meeting, and while nothing is changing just yet on the COVID front, the outlook couldn’t be much sunnier on the town’s balance-sheet side.
People in Basalt will need to continue wearing masks in public until at least June 8 following a resolution that passed unanimously Tuesday night. It was the sixth extension of the town’s mask ordinance, and the council stated its intention to revisit the mask mandate when Eagle and Pitkin counties – which both require masks in public – decide to loosen their own restrictions.
“On or around May 27, the state is going to be rolling back their COVID restrictions and putting the responsibility of having restrictions or not on local governments, namely the counties,” said Town Manager Ryan Mahoney. “We believe that Eagle County is going to be rolling back many of its restrictions, as is Pitkin County. In light of that, continuing this until that first meeting in June will allow us to see where the counties are with regard to face coverings.”
The bigger story coming out of the relatively brief meeting, however, was the first look at how the town’s unexpectedly large tax haul will be spent. Buoyed by $240,000 in excess revenues from 2020 and a 13.2 percent increase in sales tax in the first quarter of 2021 (over the first quarter of 2020), Basalt finds itself with $725,000 more in its general fund than town staff projected it was going to have.
“So we were always going to have a positive fund balance,” asked council member Bill Infante, “it’s just that we’re further in the black than you had anticipated?”
“That’s exactly right,” said town Finance Director Christy Chicoine. “I don’t want to say that it’s all spendable at once because, obviously, it takes a lot of conversation and looking at strategic vision, etc., but that number’s really important to keep in mind.”
Two ordinances that passed their first hearings Tuesday evening dealt with how to divvy up some of that extra money.
Ordinance 3 approves a contract to buy and sell real estate with local businessman Howard Deluca for the purchase of a condominium in one of the Riverside Plaza buildings on Two Rivers Road. The building, the closest of the three to the Fryingpan River, has eight condos on its second and third floors, seven of which were already owned by the town as part of its employee housing stock.
The $361,000 purchase will allow the town to own all the condos in the building, “which would allow for efficiency in the management of town-owned affordable housing units,” according to the ordinance. The town has the right of first refusal on the one-bedroom, two-bath condo and finds itself in a good position to finalize the deal now, as the building’s makeup, which includes commercial space on the first floor, means that any potential owner has to pay cash and can’t get a mortgage on the property.
“Just so that the public understands better,” asked council member Elyse Hottel, “can you please reiterate why this would be better purchased by the town than to go to free market?”
“There are a few restrictions related to this property that make it particularly more prudent for the town to own than perhaps just another employee,” said Town Attorney Jeff Conklin. “It becomes a difficult property to obtain a loan on for an individual purchasing the property. It’s not an issue that the town would face.”
The second ordinance to come before the council Tuesday night had to do with modifying the town’s 2021 budget to provide a “supplemental appropriation related to Basalt Forward 2030, TACAW contribution” and the purchase of the Riverside Plaza condo.
TACAW (The Arts Campus at Willits), which is in the final stages of constructing its new home in Willits Town Center, will be allocated $110,000 for start-up costs that it can request from the town this year or next year.
Basalt Forward 2030, an initiative adopted by the town last month, takes recommendations from the town’s 2020 master plan and works with the community to identify and prioritize capital improvements. Tuesday’s ordinance would allocate an additional $82,000 to the program for expenses like engineering, attorney costs and consulting/community outreach.
Both ordinances passed unanimously and are set for public hearing and second reading at the council’s regularly scheduled meeting on May 11.