Town could begin adding surcharge to traffic tickets

That lead foot and inclination to race to beat a yellow light could end up costing local NASCAR wannabes a little bit more.

Speaking at the Pagosa Springs Town Council meeting Tuesday night, Police Chief Jim Saunders proposed adding a surcharge to traffic tickets in town. The surcharge assessed would help offset vehicle maintenance and fuel costs incurred by the police department.

“The surcharges are identical with those raised by the state on traffic fines,” said Saunders.

According to the chief, after personnel costs, fuel and maintenance account for the highest budget expenditures for the police department.

If approved, surcharges would be assessed on all municipal traffic citations, with the amount proportionate to the amount of the fine assessed for a violation. Although a space is designated for surcharges on local traffic tickets, Pagosa Springs police have yet to mark the space.

An ordinance passed a first reading with a unanimous vote, but assessing a surcharge will require a positive vote on a second reading of the ordinance.

Dealing with another police matter, council addressed a previous budget oversight involving how Medicare taxes were paid (or not paid) out of the police pension fund. Identified by town auditor Mike Branch at the February mid-month council meeting, it was revealed that Medicare taxes owed amounted to $25,750.04.

In a resolution before council, Town Manager David Mitchem proposed amending the town’s 2009 budget such that, accounting for recent revenues, the town would reduce general fund reserves by $6,922 to pay the bill.

Council member Don Volger asked, “If this issue with the Medicare fund had come up when we were developing our budget ... what kind of decision would we have made then?”

“It would have come out of the general fund,” replied Mitchem, adding, “We could either reduce the general fund reserves or cut it out from other parts of the budget.”

Council member Stan Holt asked, “Couldn’t we just adjust the budget?”

“I believe that requires a budget amendment,” said Mitchem.

Holt continued, “What I’m saying is, can’t we approve the resolution and, at the mid-year review, adjust the budget? My concern is that whenever we have an unexpected expense, we have to vote on a budget amendment.”

Council approved the resolution, 4-1, with council member Mark Weiler opposing. Previously, Weiler commented, “My personal desire is that we have a budget and I prefer it go down, not up.”

In other business, council voted to appoint Suellen Loher, Dan Rosenblatt and John Harper to the Town Tourism Committee as at-large members.

Hearing department reports, council directed the town planning department to begin collecting a refundable deposit for project applications that would require legal, engineering or other professional review fees. Although the town has had the authority to collect such retainers, it had not previously made use of the clause in the Municipal Code. Directing staff to begin collecting deposits, council went a step further regarding several outstanding bills from developers for legal and engineering fees.

“I suggest we give them ninety days to pay and then put a lien on their property if they refuse to pay,” said Weiler.

When asked by council whether the town had the authority to levy a lien, Mitchem responded, “I’m positive we do.”

With his response, Mitchem was directed by council to contact past-due debtors and appraise them of the new policy.

In his report to council, Mitchem reported that the town saw tax revenues up 7.5 percent for December 2008, compared to the same month last year, with tax revenues for the year 2008 down .56 percent. Given that average, tax revenues for October through December fell 4.715 percent, Mitchem reported. “Council’s decision to reduce expenditures by ten percent was prudent.”

Adjourning for the evening, council gave notice that things could cost a little more in town for traffic violations and past due bills. Council could begin directing town police to fill in the surcharge space on traffic tickets, if the ordinance passes a second reading, as early as the March 19 mid-month meeting.

Oh, and that little lever on the steering column? That’s a turn signal.

jim@pagosasun.com