Telluride Housing Director Melanie Wasserman reported to Telluride Town Council Tuesday that those taking advantage of one month of rent relief — April or May, or half of each month — expressed gratitude. Approximately 80 percent of those living in town-owned properties availed themselves of the assistance. (Planet file photo)

The Town of Telluride officially tightened its belt at Tuesday’s Town Council meeting. Council unanimously passed a resolution that will sharply curb expenditures and, among other measures, put in place a hiring freeze for both a number of open seasonal positions and some open staff positions across a number of departments.

The Recession Plan is available for times of “uncertain financial circumstances,” in this case the COVID-19 pandemic that resulted in the early closure of the ski area followed shortly after by orders from San Miguel County that shuttered businesses deemed non-essential. The resulting loss of sales tax revenue and other income streams has had those in town’s administration and finance departments busy projecting anticipated losses.

The third phase of the plan — the significant phase — was chosen as anticipated shortfalls meet its requirements.

“We are drastically taking the necessary steps,” said town manager Ross Herzog. “Though the numbers were there at the beginning of the year, we feel it’s necessary” to enter the significant phase of the plan.

In his memo to council, Herzog included the wording of that phase: “A projected and unbudgeted reduction in revenues or reserves in excess of 25 percent, but less than 50 percent. Requires strong justification for large purchases, elimination of expenditures related to travel, meetings, and discretionary training, deferring a significant number of capital projects and a hiring freeze on all but essential health, safety, and welfare positions.”

The resolution’s end date is June 30, though council can either reapprove the measure as passed or move into other phases of the plan, depending on the course of the coronavirus’ spread in the county and across the country. The next phases, based on different levels of projected loss of revenue are “major” and “crisis.” Deeper phases act on cutting services, deepening the hiring freeze, deferring wage increases for town employees and reducing capital expenditures. Getting to crisis phase assumes town has nearly depleted its reserves, and calls for staff cuts, elimination of most expenditures and other measures.

“We have a plan in place to re-evaluate if things get worse,” Herzog said.

As town moves into what would normally be the slower, offseason months — the ski area’s last day would have been Sunday, the official start to offseason — a lessening of sales tax collections is expected.

Council member Tom Watkinson wondered if April and May might be better than anticipated, given that many of town’s residents have necessarily stayed put. On the contrary, council member Todd Brown pointed out. Even with more people in town, he said, restaurants staying open for take-out service are doing half their normal business.

“It would be prudent for council to be very cautious in spending,” said town attorney Kevin Geiger, recommending council adopt the measure.

Council passed the resolution unanimously.

In other council business, Telluride Housing Director Melanie Wasserman reported that the town’s offer of rent relief for those living in town-owned rental properties was met by tenants with gratitude. Residents of Shandoka, Virginia Placer, The Boarding House and the tiny homes were offered the choice of accepting relief for either April or May rent, or half each, or individual arrangements. Wasserman said the majority of those responding — about 80 percent of the total population of those living in town-owned properties — opted for relief for April’s rent.

“It’s gone really well,” Wasserman said. “People have been incredibly grateful.”

Mayor DeLanie Young reported that, in the private sector, some landlords have forgiven April’s rent, while others have raised the rent on their tenants. Council member Jessie Rae Arguelles suggested a future discussion by council that could cover potential assistance for those renting from private owners.

Other housing matters at Tuesday’s meeting included scheduling a meeting of the Telluride Housing Authority subcommittee (in which several members of council sit) so that a consideration of adjusting deed restriction qualifications could be discussed. Town residents living in deed-restricted properties are required to work a minimum number of hours in order to qualify for that housing. With jobs decimated by the coronavirus pandemic, there are a number of workers at risk of losing deed-restricted status. The subcommittee will also consider whether to permit residents of deed-restricted properties to rent out rooms in order to help make ends meet. The  subcommittee will meet Friday at 11 a.m.

Town council will be meeting weekly, on Tuesdays, until further notice.

Further town council news will be in the Friday edition of the Telluride Daily Planet.