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Mayor, trustee clash over some housing regs

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Trustee applications due Jan. 13

By John Colson

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

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The Carbondale Board of Trustees on Tuesday approved amendments to its affordable housing guidelines, but not without some disagreement about certain provisions governing who qualifies to buy or rent subsidized housing in Carbondale.

The dispute arose after Trustee Katrina Byars, an outspoken advocate for subsidized housing in town, argued that some of the qualifications for applicants for affordable housing might exclude the very people who most need the housing.

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For example, she said, a requirement that applicants be employed “full-time” at a job in the valley might be a problem for some, particularly during economic downturns when jobs are hard to find.

For example, she said, many people work two part-time jobs to make ends meet, which might not meet the qualification requirements as laid out in the amendments.

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“There have been times when I would not have qualified,” she told the board, referring to past difficulties she has had in finding housing for herself and her child. She suggested the qualifying language should be amended to “employed regularly” or even “half-time.”

She also argued that the list of documents required for qualification should not include a driver’s license, explaining that she has a relative who “has never had a driver’s license.”

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Other objections Byars raised to the proposed amendments included the board’s agreement that, where affordable rental housing is concerned, it would be a good idea to require that utility costs be part of the rent.

Byars said that would make it very difficult for low-income renters to apply for various kinds of assistance in paying utility bills. Town Manager Jay Harrington told the board that many of these difficulties could be addressed by a special review committee, provided for in the guidelines, which will look at cases where applicants are disqualified, “to see whether they meet the intent of the regulations” and should be reconsidered.

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And, Mayor Dan Richardson maintained that the list of documents required of applicants has sufficient “flexibility” that any such problems would be ironed out or worked around.

Appearing perturbed by the resistance to her ideas, Byars said at one point, “My suggested changes to this document is the only reason I’m in this meeting,” adding that if none of her changes were taken seriously she might as well leave the meeting.

Richardson replied that numerous changes had been discussed at this and other meetings, and chastised Byars for bringing up this many issues at the point where the board had expected to be able to approve the amendments.

He also expressed the hope that the housing amendments were not really Byars’ only reason for being at the meeting, as she has other obligations to fulfill in her role as an elected trustee.

Other trustees, who in some cases were swayed by Byars’ arguments, nevertheless wanted to pass the amendments at Tuesday’s meeting and then make changes at a later date if they were deemed important.

Town planner John Leybourne agreed to talk with the Garfield County Housing Authority about some of the issues raised by Byars and others, and to bring it up again at a future trustee meeting.

In the end, the board approved the changes to the housing guidelines, by a vote of 5-1, with Byars dissenting.

Other action

Also at the Tuesday meeting, the board gave its blessing to a proposal by Natalie Rae Fuller of the advisory Environmental Board (also known as the E-Board), to drastically reduce the maximum allowable time for a car to be idling while sitting still.

Fuller told the trustees that she was acting on her own in bringing the idea forward, but that it had been discussed by the E-Board in the past.

The current ordinance allows for 10 minutes of idling time before a driver can be subject to a ticket, which town officials have said is not really enforceable.

In the new version, which has yet to be formalized into an ordinance and brought before the trustees, the idling limit is to be cut to two minutes, which the trustees hoped would prompt police to be more proactive with enforcement of the law.

In addition, the fee that goes along with the ticket, which now starts at $100, is to be slashed to the same amount associated with a parking ticket — $25, with a $2 surcharge.

Richardson directed Fuller to obtain the E-Board’s endorsement for the proposal before it comes back to the trustees for a formal vote.

In other action, the trustees:

• Agree to appoint a replacement to fill the trustee seat vacated by recently elected Mayor Richardson. The deadline for applications to fill the post will be on Jan. 13, and applicants are being asked to gather 25 signatures from voters supporting their application, as a way of making the appointment a more citizen-based process.

• Approved the 2017 town budget, which calls for a 2.5-percent raise for town employees, general fund revenues of $6.3 million and general fund expenditures of just over $6 million. The budget includes a transfer of $500,000 out of reserves to cover some of the town’s spending, which will leave the town with a general fund balance of $5.1 million at the end of 2017. Overall, with all of the town’s funds accounted for (including water and wastewater, capital projects, and others) the budget comes in at about $13.9 million.

• Approved increases in a number of fees assessed by the town for services, including water, wastewater, and private lesson and training charges at the Carbondale Recreation and Community Center, among others. Most of the affected fees can be found in Appendix A of the municipal code.

• Approved the purchase and installation of earphones for use by citizens attending meetings of the Board of Trustees, at a cost of approximately $2,600.

• Agreed that the final meeting of 2016 will be held on Dec. 27 at 6 p.m., and that it will be a very short meeting to vote on a consent agenda (numerous items grouped under a single heading for approval by a single vote of the board), and approving the accounts payable list as presented by the finance department.

Published in The Sopris Sun on December 15, 2016.

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