New council faces tough times

Mayor Jim Eccher’s era begins

WALSENBURG — There was a scene of opening night optimism in City Hall Tuesday night following the seating of a new mayor and city council members, but that scene was playing out against a backdrop of harsh economic reality spelled out earlier in the day to all city employees. City staff had been briefed by administration of some of the proposed ideas to cut up to $250,000 from the municipal general fund budget by the mid-December deadline. The bottom line for employees is less money in their paychecks, and most likely, fewer city employees. Some of the ideas discussed by the incumbent city council during Monday night’s finance committee meeting were a 10% across the board pay cut, a change in the city’s unemployment policy (which if adopted could take up to 18 months to establish) and possible elimination of up to three positions in the police department. “We have hard times ahead of us, and hard work to do, it’s gonna be a long road,” said council member Cathy Pineda following her appointment as new finance committee chairperson. If positions are eliminated in the police department, the most likely immediate effect will be the end of 24-hour city police protection. Prior to the swearing-in of Mayor Jim Eccher and council members Clint Boehler, James Baca, Craig Lessar and Charles Montoya, the old council acted on one last item of business; approval of a $295,000 contract with Parker AG Services of Limon, CO, for sewer lagoon cleaning and repurposing. The city will repurpose the old lagoons, located north of the waste water treatment plant, as drying beds for waste that two years from the beginning of the project will be used as fertilizer on the city-owned ranch. Parker AG will dewater and dry the biosolids in the repurposed lagoons and produce a product that may be easily transported and land-applied according to state and federal regulations onto the city’s alfalfa fields. The contract was approved unanimously and will save the city between $135,000 and $150,000 per year in sludge transportation and disposal costs. In his closing remarks as mayor, Larry Patrick said from where he stands the city council had accomplished a lot. He said neither he or the council had wanted to raise water and sewer rates, but it was something that had to happen. He spoke about the development of the Northlands’ sanitary sewer system, saying the area off of the interstate would bring economic recovery to the entire community. Mayor Jim Eccher said at the conclusion of the meeting, “This is all new to me, folks,” but promised a transparent administration and increased citizen involvement. Eccher plans to have only one chair and co-chair person from city council on committees and boards, and will instead seek out new ideas and participation from residents. He said he will in the future be taking those applications and added he will actively seek out help, “I will be coming to some of you with applications in hand.” The new council appointments including Lessar continuing as mayor pro tem were, Dan Hyatt as city attorney, Cathy Mullens as municipal judge and former council member Erin Jerant as a member of the Planning and Zoning Board. Also sworn in Tuesday night were City Clerk Wanda Britt and Treasurer Carol Pennington-Roesch. In regular business the city council approved liquor license renewals for Kay’s Liquor, .38 Special, Starlite Inn and a special events permit for SPRHC’s December 6 employee Christmas party at the Huerfano County Community Center. Council also approved Resolution 2013 R 16 setting meeting times and meeting notice posting and Resolution 2013 R 17, which added Cathy Pineda’s name to the city list of financial signatories. Council also selected on low bid, the Huerfano World Journal as the city’s newspaper of record. Regular meeting dates will remain the first and third Tuesdays of the month. Council is expected to meet in budget work sessions in the near future.