The Basalt Town Council buzzed through its business on Nov. 23. All seven members voted in roll calls to unanimously approve 10 different measures, including the momentarily problematic adoption of the Town’s $49.3 million 2022 budget. Town Councilor David Knight and Town Manager Ryan Mahoney participated via Zoom. Less than 90 minutes after Mayor Bill Kane called the session to order, it was adjourned — taking about half the time usually scheduled for regular meetings.
No members of the public were physically present, perhaps owing to it being Thanksgiving week. Nor did anyone watch the proceedings online, according to Planning Director Susan Philp who monitored the Town Meeting’s Zoom waiting room.
Nevertheless Mayor Kane noted for the record, “The public should be aware that while this looks very brisk tonight, we’ve spent numerous meetings and work sessions over the last four months to review the budget. So I think we are all pretty familiar with it.”
There was one hitch in the budget’s passage, however, despite the mayor’s assurances. Town Councilor Bill Infante criticized a $3.9 million line item for a new Public Works facility that pushed the total expenditure for the project over a five-year period, “well beyond what I was comfortable with at the beginning,” he said. Town Manager Ryan Mahoney attributed part of the increase to the higher cost of land, and the need for a “beefier” structure than had been originally presented. Philp said the built-out facility was on the Town’s future “wish list.”
“The problem with wish lists is that once they appear in a budget anywhere, they seem to come back around,” said Infante. “Wish list items suddenly materialize as de facto line items in subsequent budgets.”
Councilor Elyse Hottel asked if the wish list could be removed so that the budget contained only “hard numbers.” Councilor Glenn Drummond objected to this suggestion, emphasizing that the Public Works facility’s projected cost was not part of the 2022 budget the Council was voting on that night. “We’ve got to look to the future,” Drummond said. “Part of our duty as Town Councilors is not to look at the year, but look at five, 10 or 20 years out. If we are not forward-looking we are not doing our job.”
Basalt Town Attorney Jeff Conklin advised Infante that he could still vote to approve the entire budget and also “memorialize” his objection to the $3.9 million line item that troubled him. With Infante’s objection noted in his voice vote, Basalt’s largest budget in its history passed.
Supplemental appropriations, not included in the first draft of the budget presented to the council in October, were added to “true-up” Town revenues. The additional sources were chiefly from building permits and sales tax collection. Town Finance Director Christine Chicoine noted an 18% increase in sales tax, year to date. That increase was derived not only from consumers’ pent-up, post-lockdown urge to shop. There is also a new statewide law that retailers must now add the particular municipality’s sales tax for items purchased online and shipped, in this case, to Basalt. Building permits were also much higher than usual, with 11 new projects expected to be completed within the next two or three years.
“We expected some economic recovery from COVID but never at such an accelerated rate,” said Mayor Kane in an interview with the Sopris Sun three days after the Town Council approved the budget. “The increase in Basalt’s revenue is all good from a fiscal standpoint,” he said, but the swift growth also worsened shortages in affordable housing and workers.
On Basalt’s expenditure side of the ledger, Town Finance Director Christine Chicoine noted that an additional $65,000 was added to the budget for Basalt’s Downtowner Bus service which, starting in January, will partner with a Roaring Fork Transit Authority pilot project to provide free transportation between downtown Basalt and Willits town center.
Chicoine was the only presenter to the Council that evening, as all motions brought up for their vote were fiscal matters. Other significant motions that were approved dealt with setting new policies for debt compliance and record keeping, necessitated by the passage of the Basalt Forward Program’s $18 million in municipal bonds resoundingly approved by voters in last month’s election. About 70% of the 1,322 Basalt voters were in favor of the Town assuming more debt for the construction of affordable housing, Midland Avenue landscape and infrastructure improvements and green energy developments. With the significant increase in the Town’s workload from all the projects that will be starting, Kane said he will be concerned in the coming year “with keeping our staff intact.” A few new hires are anticipated.