Woodland Park Council Still At War Over City Vehicles And Money

By Rick Langenberg:

The Woodland Park City Council kicked off their inaugural meeting of 2017 last week with a lively debate over money, cars, and even the WP city charter

Following a tense and complex exchange, capped by vastly different opinions and the familiar turf battles between the WP administration and the council, the elected leaders decided to establish a new Vehicle Usage Review Committee. However, the exact mission of this new group raised a few concerns and got a skeptical response by several council members and by City Manager David Buttery. “I don’t have sufficient direction (with this plan). I am guaranteed to fail, and I don’t like to fail,” said Buttery. His comments referred to plans for possible major changes regarding how the city handles and uses its fleet of nearly 60 vehicles. It could also result in some big policy changes.

Buttery wasn’t alone in his skepticism. “Is there a problem?” questioned Councilman Ken Matthews. While the council by a 4-3 vote gave the go-ahead for the new vehicle review committee, it fell short of approving other more drastic measures, such as requiring the city manager to sell or surplus five vehicles from the current fleet and imposing an immediate freeze on purchasing any more cars/trucks, except for emergency vehicles. It also killed proposed plans to collect data by requiring city employees to track in detail how they use their vehicles.

A group of council members, led by  council members John Schafer and Val Carr, want to trim expenses by re-evaluating how the city uses its vehicles, and have suggested that it consider a vehicle motor pool and selling off many of the cars used by employees for non-emergency purposes. Carr even estimated a cost savings of possibly $120,000 a year with such a review. During the budget deliberations at the close of 2016, the council was concerned regarding a record-low reserve fund, a by-product of the city doing several capital projects at the same time, including constructing a new aquatic center.

The new and old guard. It what became known as volunteer night in Woodland Park, many incumbent and new members of a variety of city committees took the oath of office last week. Photo by Rick Langenberg

The fallout from this debate, which clearly divided the council, apparently continues. Several council members gave the latest plan by Schafer and Carr the cold shoulder. “I don’t think we need a committee,” said Matthews. “The process is out of order,” added Mayor Neil Levy.Councilman Noel Sawyer, who usually sides with Carr and Schafer on key fiscal issues, questioned the cost savings that would occur from intensely reviewing the city’s vehicle usage. “The savings for all this extra work is going to have very little payoff,” said Sawyer. Instead, he suggested having a budget review committee to evaluate what progress the city is making in trimming expenses. He cited this as the crux of the main concern of the council. “It is a win-win for everyone,” said Sawyer, when discussing the possibility of a budget review committee.

But Schafer and Carr stood behind their recommendations of forming a group to objectively evaluate data regarding the city’s vehicle usage. They noted that their goal is to trim costs, and the city’s vehicle use was cited as a prime target during the budget deliberations. Mayor Pro Tem Carrol Harvey supported the idea of a vehicle review committee, but opposed imposing additional tasks for city staff that could make their work harder. She also cited a problem with the original recommendation, aimed at keeping Buttery out of the committee. Schafer and Carr wanted to form an advisory committee that didn’t include the city manager.

However, city attorney Erin Smith cited this as a potential violation of the city charter due to the fact that Woodland Park had formed a city manager form of government. In essence, she stated that the proposed committee, with their plans, could be giving orders to the city staff, which is a no/no with the current charter. Several local business leaders spoke in favor of the vehicle committee group, and the entire package proposed by Schafer and Carr. Tanner Coy, a local business owner and the treasurer of the Downtown Development Authority, said the vehicle review plans could create a good partnership among the council, city and local citizens. “I don’t see any downside. It’s a healthy process,” said Coy.

Similar views were echoed by Elijah Murphy, co-owner of the Historic Ute Inn. Buttery, though, expressed concerns with the way data would be collected, and the impacts this could impose on his staff. He said he currently provides the council with much information regarding vehicle usage.

The specific role of the committee, and the specific members, will be decided in the near future. Vote Now and Vote Often

In other action, the city council made official appointments for a variety of committees, including such groups as Historic Preservation, Planning Commission, Board of Adjustment, Utility Advisory Committee, Keep Woodland Park beautiful, and Board of Review. Due to several resignations for the planning commission, the council didn’t have to veto any of the applicants for these groups. No competition ensured for any of these seats.

Also, Darlene Jensen, coordinator for the Woodland Park Main Street program, told the council that the big day is right around the corner. On Feb. 9, Woodland Park will learn if it still is in the running for a major $500,000 grant, awarded by the Deluxe Corporation. Woodland has made it to the short-list of eight communities across the country, as part of Deluxe’s Small Business Revolution on Main Street Program. This could serves as  a major publicity and financial boost for Woodland Park, if it wins this title.

On Feb. 9, the list will be reduced to four or five, and the winner will be determined by a popular vote during a short participation period (that kicks off on Feb. 9). In some ways, this process is similar to the public voting used by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame every year to determine inductee selections. Anyone can vote as much as they want, once a day, with any computer or mobile device. They can also lobby their network of friends and associates to case tallies in support of Woodland Park’s bid. For more information on this vote process, call 719-687-5231 or visit www.wpmainstreet.org. Details on the vote are also available at www.mountainjackpot.com.