With the city running against the fiscal clock, Woodland Park last week finalized its hotly debated 2017 budget and spending costs during the final council meeting of the year.
As a result, city staffers will receive a smaller pay raise, job vacancies will be frozen, and the aquatic center will begin operations with fewer amenities. The final fiscal truce, while sparking much debate, occurred without too many verbal gun shots.
Discussion of the budget at the council meeting included a final look at city salaries. The council approved an average 1.9 percent merit-based pay increase, along with a hiring freeze on five current vacancies, including two slots at the police department.
Summer seasonal hiring for Parks, Buildings, and Grounds would proceed as normal. Any new vacancies that occur during 2017 can be filled. The original budget plan called for a 3 percent pay hike. That won’t occur.
The budget for the Special Projects office was reset at $286,500, down from an original proposal of $292,000. The council voted to slice it further to $242,200. Part of this remaining fund was specifically ear-marked for support of the Woodland Park Main Street effort.
“We knew this would be a tough year with the park and the aquatic center. Costs have risen considerably,” said Councilman John Schafer. “I’m not satisfied with the reserve at $209,000. I would feel better if it was $250,000. I would like to see more cuts.”
And he got them, with $106,000 getting shaved off the original budget proposal, creating a $209,000 emergency reserve. That is still a pretty low number, as the small town of Green Mountain Falls currently operates with a much higher reserve fund.
It was unclear whether the additional reduction of the Special Projects Budget would give the reserve fund a little more cushion. The final math suggests that this could increase the emergency fund by another $44,300 for a total $253,300 as desired by Schafer.
Still, Schafer would like to see the city’s vehicle fleet examined for cost savings in the coming year. He proposed two agenda items for January council meetings with that goal in mind.
He requested that the city discuss whether it would be feasible for officials to sell five vehicles by March 2017. He also requested that the city staff collect vehicle use data from January through November 2017. This could then be reported in December and used to seek cost savings in the 2018 budget.
Opinions mixed on performance of city manager
Once again, public comment dominated the city’s final budget hearing.
Thirteen local citizens addressed the council in person or by letter to express their support or dissatisfaction with the work being done by City Manager David Buttery and the city council in regards to the budget and other matters. However, few had specific requests in regards to the 2017 budget.
Jan Wilson, owner of Curves and a member of the Woodland Park Downtown Development Authority Board, said that she is appalled at the mismanagement going on in the city, and that Buttery has created a financial crisis. She claims that city officials lied about the cost of the aquatic center, and then she rehashed the recent controversy between the city and the DDA. She asserted that the city manager should take a pay cut or resign.
On the other end of the spectrum, Tony Perry, president of Park State Bank & Trust, praised the improved spirit of co-operation shown at last week’s meeting. He said that while he has not always agreed with Buttery, the current city manager demonstrates integrity, honesty, and a good work ethic. He encouraged the council, city staff, and citizens to work together honestly without gamesmanship, and to listen and learn without judgments.
Hunter Drummond, a local 8th grade student, shared more specific concerns. He questioned why a number of swimming related amenities like the second diving board, the electronic timer for swim meets, the water slide, and the therapy pool, had been cut from the budget for the aquatic center, while unrelated creature comforts like the fireplace were being kept in. Drummond says he will have to use facilities outside the community to pursue his athletic goals in high school if the aquatic center is unable to host diving competitions as originally envisioned.
Buttery addressed Drummond’s concerns directly. The electronic timer and second diving board will still be built, but will not be part of the initial construction. The water slide and therapy pool are more expensive and will require extra fundraising to build, according to Buttery.
He said the city is exploring the possibility of partnering with the Pikes Peak Regional Hospital to fund the therapy pool. Many of the changes to the original plan for the aquatic center are actually part of a value engineering study that was conducted prior to the recent budget discussions.
Last week’s budget showdown ended on a more amicable tone than a previous workshop on Dec. 8.
“We have to be honest, and open to the public, and look to the future,” said Councilman Paul Saunier just before the vote on the final 2017 budget. “We need to do our best as stewards and leaders to use the tax money wisely. It’s time to turn this ship around and work together. That starts tonight.”
The budget was approved by a 6-1 vote, with Councilman Val Carr casting the dissenting tally.