Draft town budget cuts deep

Keeping one eye on the past and the financial problems of the county, and the other eye on the future and the uncertain climate of a global economic meltdown, the Pagosa Springs Town Council released a draft of the town’s 2009 budget that could, if adopted, tighten the town’s purse strings to extreme levels.

A budget subcommittee headed up by council members Darrel Cotton and Mark Weiler directed town staff to develop a budget scenario that showed a 22-percent decrease in sales tax revenues from the 2008 budget, with those decreases cut across all departmental budgets.

The proposed cuts following from the draft would affect town programs and staffing alike. Of the 33 current full-time town staff, nine positions would be cut, or moved to part-time status. The current number of nine part-time employees would remain unchanged; however, some of the current part-time employees would be cut, the staffing number remaining constant because of full-time employees being moved to part-time status.

One position missing from the 2009 budget, but included in the budget for 2008, is assistant town manager, a job recently vacated by Tamra Allen. According to the commission’s report, not filling that position cuts 35 percent from the town manager/administration department budget.

Also included in the proposed cuts, the police department would eliminate two full-time positions along with the termination of the narcotics detective program (the current officer in that position would be reassigned to a patrolman/detective position). All part-time positions, including evidence technician and parking enforcement officer, would also be eliminated.

Also proposed would be the elimination of a full-time and a part-time position from the streets department, as well as the reduction of a full-time employee to part-time status. However, in order to achieve the targeted 22-percent department reduction posited by the report, services from the department would also be reduced. Street sweeping would be reduced from four days a week to two days, street lighting investment would be cut by 73 percent, while general road and vehicle maintenance would be reduced by nearly 60 percent. Finally, a proposed reduction of 54 percent in dollars budgeted for the asphalt and gravel used for pothole repair most likely represents the bumpy and uncomfortable ride Pagosa Springs residents could experience with the future economy.

Among the many reductions in services proposed in the draft, the parks and recreation department would show the most obvious cuts. A 54-percent decrease is estimated for park maintenance expenditures. The Summer Fun program would be eliminated along with all adult recreation programming, while the town’s Fourth of July fireworks display would be reduced about 29 percent. Part-time referees, umpires, and assistants would be reduced by 44 percent and the swimming program would be eliminated altogether. Likewise, all expenditures for community related service organizations would be eliminated.

Although the budget subcommittee admitted in its report that the cuts would “result in a measurable decrease in the level of service provided in all departments,” room was left for discussion — as well as the possibility that things might not end up as bleak as some fear.

“Our thought was to do more sooner than later,” said Weiler. “When you get to the edge, you have no options. If revenue dollars end up being better than expected, we can put that money back into the budget.”

Weiler continued, “The futures of sales tax-driven economies are not as bright as they’ve been in the past. When we looked at other communities that relied largely on tourism and sales-tax revenues, the picture wasn’t pretty.”

Referred to in the budget draft was a September 2008 report by the National League of Cities, which predicted a drop in 2009 municipal revenues of 4.3 percent. When asked why the draft used a 22-percent baseline for budget cuts, interim town manager Tamra Allen replied, “It was a direction from the subcommittee to look at a twenty-two percent reduction across departments.”

Town council will meet to discuss the budget draft at a work session in council chambers at Town Hall at noon Friday. It is almost certain that the draft, as it currently stands, will see a number of revisions. Said Weiler, “There will probably be some tradeoffs between now and December when we discuss the final budget.”

jim@pagosasun.com