Telluride Town Council passed its 2023 budget Tuesday. The San Miguel Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) examined a draft of its new budget in preparation for passage at its Dec. 7 meeting. The two entities, comprised of elected officials and staff, have been hearing requests for more personnel, and funding for numerous municipal projects, infrastructure needs and increased demand for services in the months and weeks leading up to last week’s exhaustive, nearing-the-finish-line reviews. The pair of budgets serve as each government’s road map for the coming year, documents that support the various goals set forth by need and, to a degree, philosophy.
Telluride Town Manager, Scott Robson, summed up council’s Tuesday work session budget review by explaining that council’s annual list of goals and objectives are what helps shape each year’s budget.
“That really is our roadmap to create both initiatives and policy and everything in between,” he said. “I'll just reiterate … our first goal and objective is preserving community and we've got a litany of ways we will do that over the next year. Two is protect health and quality of life. Three is addressing our critical infrastructure needs. And four is cultivating economic sustainability and a thriving commercial core. So, again, I think it's great that those actually haven't changed much over the last couple of years. Those continuing to be critical areas of goals and objectives to focus on and hopefully we did that pretty well in this budget.”
County finance director, Ramona Rummel, prefaced Wednesday’s BOCC work session on the budget with a reminder to the board to review the budget’s draft with an eye more toward where the money was being spent, rather than simply dollar amounts.
“This budget is clearly a guideline and because we have so much in the works on a daily basis, direction is changing,” Rummel said. “I think we just need to emphasize this as a guideline. Historically, 20 years ago, when I put this budget together, we tried to get as detailed, like this was our general ledger. That's kind of what this document did. And over the years, I feel like that has morphed into more of our guideline, our roadmap to where we need to be. So, as we go through this process today, I think the emphasis that I would like to try to make clear is that we need to look on what we're spending our money on. Let's not get tied up necessarily on the dollars because we know that some fine tuning needs to happen.”
The following highlights each of those two budget overviews.
SAN MIGUEL COUNTY
The county’s budget process begins roughly mid-year and this year, saw the addition of an additional layer of examination. The commissioners met directly with each of the county’s departments, discussing work plans, three-year department projections and budget requests that could impact programs and projects, County Manager Mike Bordogna explained. Requests for additional staffing, larger requests and an overview of each department’s spending and revenue reports were used to create a five-year projection.
“In August after reviewing our preliminary evaluation from the assessor, finance and administration reviewed the year-to-date financials again and met with every elected official and department director one-on one to show them their historical spending data and to suggest appropriate budget amounts for ongoing programs and projects and to learn about what grants they might be seeking in the coming year so that we could equate the appropriate matching portions and find where we could take those funds from,” Bordogna said. “That's also the timeframe that the commissioners met with those department heads and elected officials. We then met with the commissioners again for additional direction on some of those capital requests.”
Workforce turnover will be a continued theme in the coming year, Bordogna said.
“We've had significant turnover in the past four years,” he said. “We have an overall much younger workforce with the county and it's our obligation to ensure we can take care of the people that take care of our communities in a way that is fair and good.”
Staff workload has been significant, but in employee discussions with Lou Lazo of the Employer’s Council, what emerged was a sense of pride in the work county workers undertake.
“Even though they said that they were working harder than they had ever worked, they said they were also so happy with what they were doing and so proud to be working for the county,” Bordogna said. “(Lazo) said ‘I almost never hear those two things in the same sentence.’”
Bordogna also cited a litany of ongoing projects and other accomplishments the county has seen this year, including acquisition (with the Town of Telluride) of the Diamond Ridge parcel for housing, the county’s largest land conservation deal in its history, near-completion of the Sunnyside and Pinion Park housing communities, initiation of the East End master planning process, renovation of the Ilium jail and the construction of the sheriff’s annex in Norwood, among others. Staff has been added to the Parks and Open Space, Road and Bridge, Planning and Building, Sheriff’s and Communications departments.
Looking ahead, the county is looking to re-engineer County Road 58P above Sawpit, as well as initiate other Road and Bridge projects, continue restoration work on the Lewis and Matterhorn Mills, provide more in-service training post-COVID, continue seeking partnerships in its efforts to provide more affordable housing, upgrade voting equipment, continue efforts in habitat restoration and carbon neutrality, install new fiber and servers for county facilities, and more.
“My general feeling is that we have a $28 million budget before you and we're swinging far above our weight,” Bordogna said. “The details of how we're going to accomplish all this are in the budget document.”
Like most governments, the Telluride Town Council makes budget adjustments throughout the year, essentially meaning it works on its budget 365 days a year. Elected officials kicked off budget talks in earnest in August, when the mayor and six council members tackled its annually reviewed goals and objectives document. The talks encompass everything from bricks and mortar projects to achieving better diversity in hiring and recruitment practices. With those objectives established, council works with the town manager and finance officials to craft a new budget based on those stated priorities, enfolding the requests and needs of its various departments.
The town continues to whittle away at the debt incurred by the acquisition of the Valley Floor, the 550-plus-acre swath of conserved, undeveloped land that serves as Telluride’s entryway. Robson reported that, following the recent payment of a $6.5 million excise tax bond, what remains is within reach. That payment means a savings for the town.
“(The payment leaves) a little less or about $5.7 million left until we are able to totally retire our open space debt, which is fantastic,” Robson said. “By paying off that first $6.5 million, which we did just a few weeks ago here, that will create a savings of about $287,000 in 2023 in interest payments.”
Mayor DeLanie Young asked Robson to reiterate just how the Open Space Fund works.
“Because of this Valley Floor debt, we have this set aside fund that has grown and grown over the years and what it means as we have retired part of it, and when we retire the next part until that happens and how our options open up,” Young said. “I think it's really important for the public to hear how responsible we're being with our debt.”
Funded by the so-called “20 Percent Solution,” in which town takes 20 percent from most of the town revenue sources and dedicates it solely to open space. Three million is budgeted for 2023. Robson said that piece of voter-mandated legislature makes Telluride, “a unique community in the West.”
Young outlined potential options for the town once the Valley Floor debts have been paid.
“Once that debt is retired, meaning it's completely paid off, council can reconsider that when that debt is fully paid off, which means it could open up additional funding for the town to do other projects that have been deferred or that need extra attention,” she said. “And I just I think that that is a very hopeful place for us to be economically.”
Telluride continues its commitment to affordable housing with $4.5 million in its set-aside fund with $4 million in projected revenue. Projects in motion include the Voodoo housing and commercial building, the Virginia Placer II project and the Diamond Ridge land that was purchased in partnership with the county for land banking purposes and eyed for a potential housing site. Shandoka’s F building is facing a demolition and rebuild, and the Canyonlands parcel is also on the horizon for development.
Personnel additions have also been budgeted for the coming year, including a number of requests from departments such as Parks & Recreation, the Marshal’s department, housing, and facilities maintenance.
“Half of our challenge is not just making sure we're retaining good staff, but that we're recruiting and actually filling these budgeted positions as early in the fiscal year as possible so that we're not building up those vacancy savings,” Robson said. “When you do that, you just put more pressure on the rest of your team.”
Council passed its budget in the afternoon portion of its Tuesday meeting.