Concerns ignite over police “speed trap”
Will Green Mountain Falls turn into a “speed trap” once again, and a growing “police state”? Why are roads and parks being ignored, and will the town government go broke due to soaring administrative salaries?
These questions and more capped a well-attended 11th hour budget meeting last week, with the GMF elected leaders facing an end of the year deadline if they planned to adopt a 2015 budget. If no action was taken, town officials would have been forced to abide by a “90 percent rule,” meaning their budget would consist of 90 percent of the revenue/spending used for 2014. That could have been problematic for GMF since their 2014 expenditures were well above the norm with a budget of nearly $1.4 million due to the town hall project.
Faced with a ticking time clock, the GMF Board of Trustees last Tuesday agreed to adopt a 2015 fiscal blueprint of nearly $470,000 in total expenditures with only a few changes from a previous proposal. However, in a compromise move, the trustees decided to delay the hiring of two key new employees of the marshal and clerk’s offices, until 2015. This later move, proposed by Mayor Pro Tem Tyler Stevens, was largely a byproduct of the comments presented during the final budget meeting on Dec. 30.
A group of critics of the current administration contended that the 2015 budget is a fiscal disaster in the making and submitted a list of financial concerns in a fact sheet displayed at the GMF Post Office. Moreover, they argued that the revenues projected by town officials are extremely unrealistic and overly optimistic and probably exceed obtainable fiscal goals by nearly $50,000. More specifically, they questioned court and traffic revenue of $33,000, a 500 percent increase from the budgets of 2014 and 2013.
GMF budget critics see this as repeating a previous controversy several years ago, when the town got a bad reputation as a place to avoid due to an explosion in speeding and traffic-related citations. They even believe that the projected court costs will require a daily ticket quota in order to generate enough money for the town to function. “Green Mountain Falls does not need to become a police state,” said resident and former trustee Margaret Peterson. She urged the town government to reduce some costs by working with El Paso County and the state in developing a law enforcement substation.
Similar sentiments were echoed by former veteran trustee Mac Pitrone. “How can that be anticipated as a real number?” questioned Pitrone, in referring to the projected court costs. He and other GMF government critics see this trend setting the stage for a definite ticket quota system. Pitrone also expressed concerns about escalating employee salaries that he claims represent 58 percent of the total budget. Former Mayor Pro Tem Jane Newberry, meanwhile, accused the town of violating provisions of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights with their budget, and referred to the revenue numbers as out-of-line with reality. She suggested not taking any action until next year, and following the “90 percent rule,” until the revenue numbers are evaluated better.
Other concerns dealt with a lack of focus on capital projects, along with limited attention to parks and roads. According to the budget, the public works/maintenance agency will incur a 100-percent-plus decrease. This is largely due to fewer employees in this agency than previous years. “Parks and roads are being neglected,” said former planning commission member Cameron Thorne. “This has a negative impact on the character of our town.”
Long-time civic leader Dick Bratton complimented the board on taking a different and detailed look at the budget and consolidating certain functions of the government. But like the GMF administrative critics, he questioned some of the revenue estimates.
Past budgets didn’t represent reality
In responding to these concerns, the trustees and town officials maintained that their revenue and expense projections were based on actual trends, rather than past numbers posted on previous budgets that weren’t really followed. In reality, Trustee Michael Butts, who previously served as the town treasurer, noted that the salaries proposed actually represented a decrease in total labor costs, compared to the payments for past GMF administrators and workers, based on actual W-2 reported earnings. For example, he cited the actual salary of the previous public works director of nearly $60,000, even though his compensation on the proposed 2014 budget was listed at about half of that figure. Overall, he said employee salaries for 2015 represented a 29 percent decrease, compared to monies actually paid out to previous GMF workers in 2014.
And as for projected revenue, Town Clerk and Treasurer Mary Duval argued that the projected court costs projected for 2015 was based on actual trends established during the last few months. “I hope I am wrong,” said Duval, in discussing the $33,000 amount for combined court and traffic and non-traffic related revenue. She said current figures demonstrated that the town is averaging about 15 traffic citations per month. And with plans underway for hiring a sergeant and more reserve officers, she sees this figure increasing. The head clerk cited a desire to have “more eyes on the road” as a goal of the police department.
The trustees acknowledged that the 2015 budget definitely demonstrated more of a commitment to public safety. The town plans to give Marshal Tim Bradley a substantial salary increase from about $35,000 to $50,000. Meanwhile, the public works budget will decline from $370,000 to $146,000. This focus on the police department has generated much opposition among a familiar group of critics of the administration, several of whom served with the previous board. They had actually proposed eliminating or substantially restructuring the marshal’s office when they ran the town government.
But a significant changing of the guard occurred in April 2014.
In their final analysis, the board of trustees expressed satisfaction with the final budget, but opted for more caution when it came to new hiring decisions. This could immediately impact the addition of another officer for the marshal’s office and another administrator for the clerk’s office. “I appreciate the work (of the staff and trustees). I am very comfortable with this budget.” said Stevens. “It represents a sense of community.” But in lieu of some of the comments from residents, Stevens wanted to delay any new permanent hiring of full-time employees, until the board analyzes the budget scenario in more detail next year prior to making long-term employee commitments. Trustee Chris Quinn agreed, citing this as a prudent way to do business. “It gives us a little wiggle room,” said Quinn.
Although the money is budged for these new positions, the actual hiring action for these jobs will be placed on hold. However, city officials say they hope a decision on these jobs will be reached in January.