More cuts to town budget

Two months of dismal sales tax collections forced the Pagosa Springs Town Council to make a 15-percent budget reduction, including forced furloughs and triggering deeper discussions on finances during their mid-month meeting May 21.

During his report to town council, Town Manager David Mitchem said town staff would be subject to a two day furlough — unpaid leave, to be taken in June or July.

The cost-saving tactic prompted comment from Town Councilman Mark Weiler.

“I’m wondering,” said councilman Mark Weiler, “if instead of reducing people’s pay, we look at the benefit side of things,” referring to the possibility of cutting costs through reducing some of the benefits offered to town employees. “It might be better,” Weiler continued, “instead of taking money out of people’s pockets.”

Replying that he would investigate Weiler’s suggestion, Mitchem continued the discussion, saying, “We are watching expenditures very diligently. Should the town have to come up with a deeper cut,” he said, “staff would like to come to you with options of cutting full programs … as far as what programs … that are good to have but not essential, as opposed to other programs, like public safety and road maintenance.”

The 15-percent cut marks a tiered approach — enacted via policy in November — should sales tax revenues wither. The first cut of 10 percent came in January after reviewing mid-winter sales tax figures. Last Thursday’s cut boosted the level to 15 percent.

Mitigating the negative economic news, however, Mitchem was happy to report that, “Despite the downturn, our bookings for town parks are up and also, fulfillment through the Visitor’s Center (for information packets) is up 42-percent,” portending, hopefully, a busy tourist season for the summer.

And perhaps blighted by weightier matters of grim economic news, town council also made time to buss the cheeks of a local business and Mitchem.

After approving a Memorandum of Understanding with the county for the enhancement of a GIS (Geographic Information System — see related article), council heard a report from the Region 9 Economic Development District regarding jobs creation by Parelli Natural Horse-man-ship, Inc., as it related to compliance with a 2005 grant.

The grant, secured by the Town of Pagosa Springs from Region 9 for the provision of infrastructure in support of Parelli, stipulated the creation and maintenance of 25 new full-time equivalent jobs by December 31, 2010, with those jobs paying at 150-percent of Archuleta County per capita income ($25,145). Prior to the grant award, Parelli’s base employment was 42 employees.

According to the letter from Region 9 presented to council, Parelli has created 22 new jobs meeting the criteria for the grant. “Since Parelli has been here,” said Mayor Ross Aragon, “not only have a lot of jobs been created but a lot of people have come here as a result of Parelli being here.”

“My kudos to the firm,” said Mitchem. “I might add that Parelli has added these jobs in a down economy.”

Aragon concluded by stating that council should take time at a future meeting to formally recognize Parelli with a delegation recognizing the company’s positive impact on the community.

Despite dark clouds and a heavy rain outside Town Hall, chambers held ample sunshine as it recognized Mitchem as part of his six-month review. Having circulated evaluation forms at the previous meeting, council decided not to convene an executive session, preferring to praise Mitchem in open session.

Aragon started, saying, “I’m going to lead off and tell you how refreshing it’s been working with you, and I can’t advocate enough your work ethic, your professionalism. You’ve never been adversarial and you’ve always kept an open mind.”

Unanimously expressing support for Mitchem’s performance, council acknowledged that he had taken the position during the worst possible time but had made the most of a bad situation. Only council member Mark Weiler qualified his praise with reference to Mitchem’s background in economic development, saying, “I think you’ve done a great job,” but added that, having answered the financial challenges of the past six months, it was time for Mitchem to fulfill his potential. “We’ve got to prime the pump,” Weiler added. “We need to drive the economy.”

In other business, council unanimously passed the first reading of revised geothermal heating system regulations. Having proposed several revisions when the regulations were presented at the May 4 meeting, council approved the first reading of the regulations with minimal additions. The regulations will go into effect should council approve a second reading of the ordinance at the June council meeting.

Council meets at Town Hall, Tuesday, June 2 at 5 p.m.