City Manager and Attorney Nix Reading of Nasty Letters
~ by Bob Volpe ~
The Woodland Park City Council held a special work session last week to iron out details for the 2019 budget and to address an issue that has commanded much attention recently: the reading of “attack letters” at the close of meetings.
At the same time, several key budget issues still remain unresolved, as elected leaders face a deadline for signing off on their proposed budget for next year.
Finance work last week centered on new sources of revenue from grants, discussion on possibly lowering the mil levy, and the battle over the chamber of commerce contract to run the visitors center.
No More Reading of Official Letters
Before council got down to brass tacks on the 2019 budget, City Manager Darrin Tangeman addressed the council about the recently contentious issue of written correspondence being read by the mayor at the close official meetings. After consulting with the city attorney, Tangeman and staff recommended that written correspondence be removed from the agenda entirely.
Tangeman said, “Recommendations from both attorneys is that we remove that from the agenda, but that we still allow residents to come and make public comment.”
The controversial issue surrounding written correspondence stems from a letter written by former mayor Steve Randolph. The letter was read by Mayor Neil Levy at the end of a council meeting in October.
The letter was perceived as a personal attack against a local business owner by many council members. The majority of council considered the reading as unfit and an egregious violation of the professional dignity that should be displayed at council meetings.
At their formal meeting later in the week, the council accepted this recommendation proposed by the city manager, which no longer permits official correspondence public readings.
Final Budget Details Still Up In the Air
Finance Director Mike Farina started off the budget talks last week with an explanation of changes to the budget. He started out by recommending the current mil levy be held at 16.249, the same rate for nearly 30 years. Farina also addressed supplemental appropriations. These appropriations cover expenses not originally budgeted for in the 2018 budget like the costs incurred due to the resignation of former city manager David Buttery and the search for his replacement.
Farina then noted an increase in expenses from the 2018 budget due to costs incurred by the DDA’s (Downtown Development Authority) legal battle in the amount of $489,400.
Further changes to the 2019 budget were increases in revenues because of money brought in by grants. Farina noted the city received a grant in the amount of $101,000 from the state for marijuana enforcement.
In addition, Farina talked about reducing the police training budget from $32,000 to $21,000, but this was then returned to $33,000 because of the additional revenue obtained by the marijuana enforcement grant.
Farina then addressed objectives for the 2019 budget requested by council. Of those objectives, $36,000 was allocated to replace one police vehicle, improvements were proposed to the visitor center in the amount of $25,500, and updates to council chambers’ electronic media setup will be implemented in the amount of $16,000.
Other council objectives were to increase the council line item by $8,500 dollars, update the payroll and human resource system.
Council also brought up an item on their wish list, dealing with installing automated voting machines in the chamber. This prompted conversation on how to go about implementing this plan. Council eventually decided rather than do a piecemeal approach, to instead research the issues and do all of these upgrades all at once. Councilperson Noel Sawyer suggested a committee be formed to look into all options.
Mayor Pro Tem Val Carr, meanwhile, presented a list of items he would like to see addressed in the 2019 budget. Those included reducing employee costs at the visitors center, terminating the contract with the Woodland Park Chamber of Commerce, which manages the visitor center, charging the chamber of commerce rent for their office at the Ute Pass Cultural Center, suspend the three-percent merit salary increase for city employees, adjust funding for city beautification projects, and work with the DDA on placement for a dog park at Woodland Station.
However, the issue of visitor center funding, which has raised the hackles on some members of council, will be put on hold. Councilperson Carrol Harvey took issue with terminating the contract with the chamber at such a late date, as the contract automatically renews on December 1,
Council bantered back and forth on this issue, with no firm conclusions. Some questioned the idea that hiring someone to take over the visitor center may not necessarily result in better management.
Tangeman noted that the chamber officials are aware that council intends to put the contract out for new proposals, and that they are prepared for that competitive bid option. Tangeman asked council to allow him and his staff to have the time to work out these issues.
Harvey and Councilperson Case agreed that it is in the city manager’s job description to deal with the visitor center issue. Case further suggested that the city manager address Carr’s priority list.
Regarding his plan to suspend the three-percent salary increase for city employees, Carr agreed to table this idea until the city’s salary survey is completed.