Woodland Park Councilman delivers stern message to county officials -Rick Langenberg

Woodland Park Councilman Bob Carlsen, who is often known for his vocal comments at public meetings, came out swinging last week during the initial review of the proposed 2016 city budget.

More specifically, Carlsen delivered a firm message to officials from Teller County: pay your fair share.

Carlsen maintained that Woodland Park is getting a lousy financial deal from the county pertaining to parks and recreation program costs, cooperative services and even dog catching revenues. And with better times approaching for most local governments, Carlsen indicated that the free fiscal ride the county has enjoyed, at the expense of Woodland Park, should end.

“I am looking for a little bit of equity in our relationship with the county,” said Carlsen. “We should get at least something for that.”

He believes that the county government needs to open its pocket book, since Woodland Park plays a major impact on the property tax monies it receives. Also, he argued that Woodland Park provides the county with many services, most of which the city receives nothing back in return. Carlsen, at one point, even indicated that the Teller government should pay $100,000 a year, based on the services that Woodland Park offers, such as its parks and recreation program. “We are subsidizing parks and recreation programs to 70 to 80 percent,” said the councilman.

Carlsen’s comments capped a rather uneventful budget session marked by hardly any concerns or questions. Carlsen, though, made up the difference, grilling City Manager David Buttery on a variety of subjects. Besides questioning its relationship with the county, the councilman raised a red flag about a big hike in issuing speeding tickets. “We are now enforcing things,” admitted Carlsen.

He also made a pitch for using street improvement monies for efforts to make Woodland Park more pedestrian friendly and wanted to assure that the city is getting a good bond deal for the aquatic center project.

Some of his commentary, however, grew thin on fellow council members. “Maybe we should have a bake sale,” said Mayor Pro Tem Carrol Harvey, as part of a sarcastic swipe about his concerns over the city’s spending pursuits.

Councilman Phil Mella stated that Carlsen had a point “in principle” regarding the financial arrangement with Teller County. But from a practical standpoint, he questioned his stand and maintained that the timing of taking a more hardline stance with the county isn’t good.

“That is a politically slippery slope,” said Mella, in reference to efforts to obtain more monies from Teller County for services. “Be careful what you wish for.”

He also believes the time is ripe to work with the county on common interests and not to stir up bad blood. “It (the relationship between Woodland Park and Teller County) has been marred in recent years,” said Mella, regarding several notable fights between the two entities over the last few years.

Other council members also didn’t express any interest in sharpening the fiscal sword regarding its relationship with the Teller county government. Mayor Neil Levy opted to put a hold on this discussion, viewing it as a philosophical issue that wouldn’t get resolved during last week’s budget meeting.

City Manager David Buttery agreed to review its fee structure for the parks and recreation programs and whether non-city residents could be charged more for programs, or if city residents could receive discounts.

But he defended the use of city dollars for parks and recreation activities. “It’s an absolute normal thing to do,” said Buttery, in regards to a city government subsidizing parks and recreation activities.

A growing speed trap?
Buttery also responded to Carlsen’s claims that the city is allocating more monies towards issuing speeding tickets. He said a big increase has occurred in overall traffic stops, but indicated that hasn’t resulted in that big of a hike in ticket-related revenue. “We have tripled the amount of traffic stops,” admitted the city manager. But when it came to projected revenue, he said the city only expects to generate about $32,000 in citation revenue, compared to $30,000 for this year.

The councilman also asked that the city allocate more dollars towards implementing aspects of the new traffic circulation study that are aimed at providing a more pedestrian-friendly downtown. However, once again, Carlsen’s suggestions didn’t get a favorable response, with officials citing 2017 as the year it plans to make major traffic adjustments, based on the study results which still haven’t been finalized.

Overall, the 2016 budget is being touted as the “year of commitments,” according to Buttery. The main focus for the 2016 fiscal blueprint deals with financing several signature, major capital projects, such as the aquatic center, the Memorial Park facelift and the maintenance facility. As a result, he cautioned that the city doesn’t have too much flexibility in funding additional projects. These three projects alone could amount to a total annual spending bill of at least $900,000 for the city government, with the interest payments required.

The city, however, is doing quite well from a revenue standpoint, with sales tax numbers experiencing a robust 9.3 percent hike level at the end of August 2015, compared to the same period a year ago. “It appears we have a huge amount of money,” said Buttery.

However, the city manager noted that the funding of these major projects will use up quite a bit of funds, so he cautioned about getting too optimistic regarding these jumps in revenue.