In the only matter requiring a vote at the Basalt town council’s regular meeting Tuesday, Oct. 11, councilors unanimously approved participating in a memorandum of understanding to form the Roaring Fork Valley Wildfire Collaborative (RFVWC). As the first such collaboration in the Roaring Fork River drainage and contiguous areas, the collaborative brings together 18 counties, cities, towns, fire protection districts and federal agencies.
According to its mission statement, the RFVWC will work “to reduce wildfire risk by identifying, prioritizing and implementing strategic cross-boundary plans and projects aimed at creating fire resilient landscapes and fire-adapted communities, while focusing on community engagement, education and inclusion.” Town Manager Ryan Mahoney said that RFVWC will compile information on potential sources of wildfire fuel, where it needs to be removed in the forests, the location of access roads and gaining a better understanding of the role wind direction plays in spreading fire. Basalt contributed $6,500 to the organization, which intends to file for nonprofit status. RFVWC will have an office at the Aspen Institute.
The council heard a detailed recitation of the first draft of the town’s 2023 budget totaling $44 million. About $11 million in the general fund, one of the Town’s seven separate funds earmarked for different purposes, is projected to cover the Town’s standard expenses like utilities and staff salaries. Town Manager Ryan Mahoney explained that while the council will not vote on the final budget until Dec. 13, Basalt is required by both its charter and Colorado statute to hold its first review of the numbers before Oct. 15 each year. In years past, Basalt’s finance director, Christy Chicoine, gave the budget report, but left the position in August. Mahoney highlighted items in the 40-plus page draft budget. The town hired Doug Pattison as its new finance director. Pattison started his job Oct. 3.
Mahoney said that revenue from licenses and building permits is projected to be significantly lower in 2023 because most of the major construction projects that had been planned for are underway. Revenue from 2023 property taxes, however, is projected to be about 12% higher than in 2022. A 1,000 % increase in expenditures is projected for the cemetery, which needs a new irrigation system and other infrastructure updates.
Under the restricted fund, revenue generated from the tax on tobacco products has grown by about 74% since 2021. More than $1 million is projected to be generated. These funds are spent on school counselors, teachers and programs “that focus on keeping kids away from tobacco,” said Mahoney.
Another source of additional revenue for the Town will come from the lodging tax. Short-term rentals (STR), which are subject to the same tax as hotels, have been undercounted. Mahoney said that “people don’t come forward to buy an STR license” as they are supposed to.
The council heard two other presentations requiring no action at this time. Travis Gleason, founder of Basalt Connect, the free, on-demand, app-based ride service, spoke via Zoom about the first year of operation; Basalt Connect didn’t run in May, September and October. Last winter it transported almost 5,000 passengers in Willits and Basalt and destinations between. Ridership rose to 10,000 in the summer. Gleason said that riders had an average wait time of seven or eight minutes, and gave Basalt Connect high marks. Town councilors expressed interest in providing year-round service if additional funding can be secured.
Jacob Smith, executive director of Colorado Communities for Climate Action (CC4CA) spoke to the council about the 39-member coalition that advocates at the state and federal level on ways towns can advance climate resilience and sustainability. Smith said that CC4CA represents 25% of Colorado’s population. Councilor Dieter Schindler asked Smith why the number was not larger. Smith surmised that “communities that are purple” are not interested in participating until they are affected. “The politics are not there for a lot of communities,” he said, adding that it takes two years of “conversations” with CC4CA before they join.
At the end of the public meeting, the council announced it would go into a closed executive session with town attorney Jeff Conklin to receive legal advice. Conklin said a lawsuit had been filed against the council by Basalt resident Ted Guy, concerning council approval of the Basalt Circle Center development. In 2016, Guy charged that the council, composed of entirely different members at the time, had conducted executive sessions that were not in accordance with Colorado’s open meeting law. In 2020, the town of Basalt settled the case for $115,000.