Across the board wage cuts in Walsenburg’s 2014 budget

HUERFANO — The Walsenburg City Council Tuesday night unanimously approved an austere municipal budget for 2014 calling for a 10% pay cut for all staff and layoffs for three members of the police department. “Its been a tough week for all of us,” Mayor Jim Eccher said at the top of the meeting, “but we’ll see if we can get through this as painless as possible”. The city’s overall $6,510,785 budget was passed and will be forwarded to the state mid-month. “For the past several weeks we’ve concentrated on the budget and it hasn’t been a pretty process,” said finance committee chairperson and Ward 2 council member Cathy Pineda. “The employees took the brunt of this, but we had no choice,” she said. Walsenburg City Administrator David Johnston indicated there is only about $69 to spare in the coming year’s budget. In his budget letter to the council, Johnston said, “The City is cautiously optimistic that sales tax revenues will increase in the upcoming year and that a new utility (both residential and commercial) revenues will be realized as a result of the reopening of the modular home factory. Unfortunately, these revenues did not develop early enough to create the concept of a sustainable trend, causing some major cutbacks in the City’s budgets.” Johnston went on to say, “Although Administration had hoped to maintain City services at levels expected by its residents, projected revenues do not support that aspiration.” The budget letter spelled out the harsh, but hopefully temporary, solution, “Notably the budget as presented includes a 10% across-the-board wage reductions for all City employees, starting on January 1, 2014. Additionally, the Walsenburg Police Department will be reduced by three full-time-equivalent positions at that time.” Police Chief Tommie McLallan said despite the cuts, police will continue 24-hour protection to residents, even if it means only one officer on duty at certain times. Administration said a city-wide hiring freeze has been in place since 2009 and the 2014 budget does not include any vacant employee positions. “Care has been taken to purchase repair parts and supplies at reasonable prices, while continuing to support local businesses,” the budget letter said. The 2014 budget reflects: $1,176,660 for the general fund; $1,439,918 for the gas fund; $1,425,585 for the water fund; $1,103,008 for the sewer fund; $4,500 fire pension fund; $30,000 conservation trust fund; $330,584 capital improvement fund; $90,020 internal services fund; $218,410 water park fund; $690,000 street improvement fund, and $2,100 for downtown development fund. The approved budget shows an upside down beginning fund balance in the general fund in 2014 of $582,996. Johnston said this reflects, in part, the state-ordered mill levy pay back the city has been involved in for the past few years. Eccher said either raising water rates or taking the bite here (wage cuts and layoffs) is the basic outlay of the budget. “It’s a financial heartbreak for a few employees,” he said. “I’ve talked to many employees, they’re not happy, but they’re accepting of it as well,” he said. The city council unanimously passed three resolutions associated with the 2014 budget; 2013 R-19 for appropriations; 2013 R 20 the resolution to adopt the budget, and, 2013 R 21, levying general property taxes for the year 2013 to defray the costs of government for the City of Walsenburg, for th 2014 budget year. City council members are doing their part, Mayor Eccher said, by cutting their meeting compensation to only the two regular (or any special formal council sessions) meetings per month. “We are going to have work sessions, not committee meetings, that’s how we took our cut,” Eccher said. The chairpersons and co-chairpersons for the committees will be: Cathy Pineda and James Baca on finance; Nick Vigil and Charles Montoya on parks and pool; Mayor Eccher and Clint Boehler on utilities (although Boehler had expressed interest to serve on the police committee); Craig Lessar and Silvana Lind, police committee, and Eccher and Rick Jennings will continue as members of the planning and zoning committee, which is governed by statute, not city council policy. In other business, the council corrected a 2013 election snafu, with the appointment of Cathy Pineda to her Ward 2 position. Pineda should have stood for election this year, but there was an administration oversight and she was told she did not have to run. Pineda was elected to the seat last year, but her term of office should have concluded this year as she was ultimately fulfilling the Ward 2 seat originally held by James England. England did not finish his term, and Gary Sporcich was appointed during Mayor Bruce Quintana’s administration. Sporcich also resigned, and Pineda was elected in a special election, when no one came forward interested in the appointment. Pineda’s current term will expire in 2015 and she will have to stand for a ratification vote to continue in the position until 2017. She was appointed in a council vote of 8-0-1, ignoring the first lesson of political life, abstaining from voting for herself. Council passed a resolution appointment and approving signatories for city bank and investment accounts; approved the Downtown GID budget, approved an agreement with RubinBrown as the city’s auditor at $20,000 for the audit and $2,000 for financial preparations with reasonable travel expenses allowed; approved a quit claim deed to a small vacant piece of property (315 W. Second) at one time, approximately 100 years ago, believed to have been deeded to the city (although no physical proof could be found, according to City Attorney Dan Hyatt); and continued the agreement with Headwaters Corporation concerning the in place water augmentation plan. Finally, Downtown Revitalization member Karen Wilson requested the city consider adopting a resolution or proclamation declaring support for shopping locally at their next regular meeting.