The city’s total budget for 2012 is $41,267,963, stated City Manager Bill Bell in a report to the Montrose City Council, and is the result of “extensive effort” by staff and elected officials. City Sales and Use Tax revenues are down, he wrote, and the budget was scrutinized line by line.
Most staff positions that were vacated in 2011 were not filled, he said, and between 2008 and 2011, staff was reduced by 11 percent, from 188 to 169.
Squabbles over budget specifics continued until the final vote of 3-2, with councilmembers Thomas Smits and Bill Patterson voting no. Both objected to money budgeted for economic development, including the Montrose Association of Commerce and the Telluride Montrose Regional Air Organization.
Following the Oct. 4 City Council meeting, city staff worked to find more money for those entities, said Finance Director Shani Whittenberg, and thought they had come up with a solution, by reprioritizing what was needed for the city’s vehicle fleet.
Whittenberg said staff had found a way to save $175,000 that could be used for the general fund by buying a smaller dump truck to help with snow removal downtown, while assigning another, street-department dump truck to the wastewater treatment plant instead of buying a new one.
But at Tuesday’s meeting, neither Patterson or Smits was convinced.
“We did a Band-Aid approach by using excess fleet funds,” Patterson said. Both men also questioned the city’s role in giving funds to Montrose ACT and TMRAO.
“I’m not against TMRAO,” Smits said. Instead, “I felt the money should not come from the general fund, but from the tourism tax.”
Smits said he couldn’t accept the city staff’s solution because Jim Hougnon, Director of Public Works, had said earlier that two new trucks were needed.
“I’m not buying it this time, because you adamantly opposed it last time,” he said.
Hougnon replied that his staff had gone back, at council’s request, and scrutinized the city’s needs before coming up with the solution.
“You did make me go back and look at our assets, and we can do it,” he said. “We’ll have the same number of trucks, but one is smaller. We will be able to provide adequate service, and from my standpoint it’s the right thing to do.”
Smits wasn’t convinced.
“I look at taxpayers, and I see the general fund sacrificing for economic development,” he said.
But Mayor Kathy Ellis took the opposite view.
“I also represent taxpayers, and without the income of TMRAO, I don’t believe we would have the money to buy dump trucks,” she said. “We are only putting 8.9 percent of the total amount of money that comes in for these airlines. It is such a minimal part of the overall revenue that comes into this area. I would be derelict in my duties if I did not try to keep TMRAO whole.”
Smits also said a true gauge is needed to determine how advertising by Montrose ACT helped the community.
“No discredit to Montrose ACT, but I need to show constituents,” he said. “Advertising is a hard number to justify. How many people did we get, based on that advertising?”
Councilmember Gail Marvel then said that Smits had contradicted himself, because he “said he needs numbers to show, and we can’t get the numbers.”
Smits replied that the only numbers the council can look at is sales tax revenue to determine how the city is doing. “We can’t hold Montrose ACT responsible for a decline in revenues when all over the country it has gone down,” Marvel retorted.
Smits also said that by spending money on economic development for outside the city, the city might be violating its own charter, to which Ellis objected.
“We’ve had the charter since 1986, and I’ll bet someone would bring it to our attention if we violated the charter,” she said.
An earlier contentious issue regarding whether to raise recycling fees was voted down at the Oct. 4 meeting.
The council used a 10-day retreat to work on the budget. Several councilmembers, including Ellis and Smits, said it was the best budget process they had ever gone through.