Declining sales tax revenue prompts council discussion

Presented with a report on November sales tax revenues that could be characterized as somewhere between dire and dismal, the Pagosa Springs Town Council nonetheless found room on their Thursday agenda to offer support for two capital improvement projects. Though support was more moral than material, the council provided assurance that it would, if it could, find a way to make both projects a reality.

While sales tax revenues are only down slightly from 2007 — 1.37 percent, up to December — November revenues reflect an 11.67 percent drop from those collected the same month last year. The board received the report with little undue distress, if not some confusion, on how to answer the alarm. Discussion among board members varied on how to respond, with several members wondering if waiting for a December report would be wise before taking action. Seemingly uncertain about what the next step should be, mayor Ross Aragon told council, “I’m waiting on a motion for this.”

Council member Mark Weiler recommended, “I think we should table this for our Jan. 21 work session,” to which Aragon concurred.

However, as reported in the Nov. 13 SUN, council approved a budget policy on Nov. 5 mandating the town respond to a 10-percent drop in revenues with a 15-percent budget cut, while a 15-percent drop would lead to a further 20-percent reduction in expenses. Cuts to the budget would entail as little as asking department heads to excise nonessential services (with a 10-percent drop in revenues) to implementing a full hiring freeze and focusing on only essential services (in the worst-case scenario). The policy states that “the town will not delay its response to changes in revenue streams,” suggesting that any such changes reported would necessitate immediate response by town staff.

Council broke for a recess before going into Executive Session, citing C.R.S. 24-6-402(2)(f), “Personnel matters except if the employee who is the subject of the session has requested an open meeting, or if the personnel matter involves more than one employee, all of the employees have requested an open meeting,” with town manager David Mitchem seated before the board.

After reconvening, council recalled provisions of the budget policy and directed staff to respond appropriately.

Wrapping up the meeting, Aragon directed council members Shari Pierce and Don Volger to work with town sanitation supervisor Phil Starks in drafting a geothermal department policy.

As reported in last week’s SUN, a resolution was drafted for council that would reserve .2 acres of Centennial Park, “adjacent to the existing geothermal heating facility and the San Juan River,” while also allocating 100 GPM of geothermal water. As stated in the resolution (in Section 3), “The Town Council recognizes the public benefit of the proposed Project and therefore commits to entering into a mutually agreeable lease for the geothermal waters and land subject to all provisions of the Town’s Home Rule Charter and Municipal Code.”

Opening the matter to discussion, Aragon called on geothermal greenhouse committee members Kathy Keyes and Michael Whiting to speak before the board and describe the committee’s progress on the project. After giving a bare bones assessment of the project, Whiting appealed to the board, saying, “We can’t move forward without two main ingredients: the water and the location.”

Keyes elaborated on Whiting’s description, stating that the committee is, “ ... also looking at it as an economic driver and a source of community pride,” adding that, as a restaurant owner, there would be advantages to having locally grown vegetables available year-round.

Aragon told council that, “I got a report from the county commissioner chair that the board will support this project 100 percent.”

Archuleta County director of community development Rick Bellis, reinforced the mayor’s statement, saying, “I have been asked by the BoCC to thank you personally. Hopefully, this will set a standard for future cooperative projects ... . Whatever this project needs, the county has pledged staff, time and resources.”

Although the project’s committee will seek state and federal funds to supplement seed money for the project, community support for the greenhouse was evident at the meeting. Citizen’s Bank president Dan Aupperle said to council, “I think (the project) is a nice fit for Pagosa Springs. The bank has acquired some geothermal rights as part of a foreclosure ... . We’d like to make 30 GPM available to the project.”

Bob Hart also weighed in with an offer, saying, “I think it’s a really great project for the community,” and added, “Hart Construction would like to donate dirt work,” for the project.

Bellis stated that he knew of several contractors who had also volunteered services for the project, and that he had personally talked to surveyors who, familiar with the project, reportedly had, “ ... uncovered previously unmarked steam vents and thermal pools that could have potential future economic use.”

Given the enthusiasm of greenhouse committee members and apparent support from citizens at large, council moved to approve the resolution, passing it with a unanimous vote.

Warmed by the spirit of community and intergovernmental cooperation, the council moved on to a discussion item reviving plans for a proposed skate park that had previously appeared to have fallen victim to budgetary constraints.

Addressing the council, town parks and recreation director Tom Carosello said, “A couple of weeks ago, Karin Kohake called and asked if the town and county could jointly support a new skate park,” adding that, during the Jan. 12 county Parks Recreation Open Space and Trails meeting, “PROST expressed tentative optimism that a skate park could get funding from the county.”

Having laid out his preamble, Carosello asked the board, “My question to council is — should I spend time on this?”

Kohake (Archuleta county special projects manager) followed in presenting the case for the skate park to the board, saying, “This is the quintessential example of a joint town/county project. It’s also in the PROST master plan and, of all the projects (in the plan), it is also the farthest along. I am willing to put in time for this and will put this before the BoCC for 1A funds.”

Although the county earmarked 1A funds for a multiuse indoor equestrian arena at its Dec.16 meeting, the BoCC reversed that decision at its Tuesday afternoon meeting, effectively freeing up the money for other uses — including, a skate park.

Representing the Skaters Coalition for Concrete — the grassroots organization instrumental in pushing for the skate park — Mike Musgrove made his appeal before council, saying, “The town committed a $30,000 match to get the skatepark built. I know the town has spent $18,000 to get the design done but, unfortunately, the other $12,000 is not available. I understand the town is under financial pressure but I think now is the time to act on this — the county is on board.”

Whiting, donning another of his many hats, said, “I was appointed as PROST chair and in that capacity, sent the county a recommendation to support the project.”

After hearing assurances from Carosello that private donations for the skate park had not been reabsorbed by the town but remained dedicated to the project, council heard support expressed by other citizens and county officials.

“Obviously, there’s a lot of community support for this,” said Volger, who then asked Carosello, “Where would you and the Parks and Rec department put this in a list of priorities?”

Carosello responded by reminding council that, with the project nixed from the capital improvement budget, a skate park was not on the list, and so, not a priority. “However,” Carosello added, “A few hours of extra work a week, done after five, wouldn’t matter to me.”

With a unanimous vote, council gave its blessing for Carosello to continue pursuing a skate park project. Granting support to two new projects — land and water resources for a proposed geothermal greenhouse, staff time and energy given for a skate park — council appears not to be cowed by negative economic news and prepared to move forward where the community stands to gain.

jim@pagosasun.com