Developing the budget for a city, even the size of Cortez, is a huge task under normal circumstances, but with the city’s financial issues, it was especially challenging this year.
Staff began working on the budget in June. The goal was “to build a disciplined, deliberate, efficient, transparent and accountable government,” positioned to provide services to our citizens. In addition, the city manager made two requests of the finance director: Develop a budget that conforms with the best practices of the Government Finance Officers Association and create a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report in compliance with the Governmental Accounting Standards Board.
It has been an involved process with forward movement, and the need, at times, to go back to the drawing board. All departments were asked to cut their budgets by 10%, and capital projects and large purchases were carefully evaluated and limited to funds with surplus revenues, such as the Street Improvement, Water and Refuse funds. In the end, staff produced a balanced budget and developed revised rates citywide, and a process is being set in place to allocate costs of services from the General Fund to all other funds in an effort to better determine the actual costs involved in providing services and completing projects. It’s the first step in making city government more efficient while providing safeguards to help insure that systems work as they are intended. The budget must go through two public hearings with final approval, hopefully, at the Nov. 26 council meeting. A draft of the 2020 budget can be found on the city’s website using the search box.
There is much to do to button down the city in preparation for winter. Within a few days, the park maintenance staff will begin to remove the tree boxes from Main Street so the trees can be planted in the city parks to supplement or replace those damaged or dying. Staff has also been working on the north side of Parque de Vida to get lighting installed along the walk bordering Empire. They anticipate that the lights will be up and working by Nov. 15 – a welcome addition for those who walk the park early in the morning or in the evenings.
If you haven’t been by the Recreation Center lately, take a look at the new parking lot. This project was started on Sept. 16 and completed by Nov. 12 – even with some unexpected issues and nasty weather. We now have a nice smooth lot which is easier to drive and walk on as well as more attractive, and should be good for the next 20 to 25 years.
On Nov. 11, we celebrated Veterans Day. A truce to halt World War I was called on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, but the official peace treaty was not signed until 1921 – three years later! President Woodrow Wilson designated Nov. 11 as Armistice Day, but Congress did not designate this day as a national holiday until 1938, when Veterans Day was proclaimed to honor WWI veterans. In 1954, Armistice Day became Veterans Day, an annual holiday to thank all who have honorably served in our country’s military, whether during war or peacetime.
Traditionally, Cortez celebrates Veterans Day with a breakfast and lunch for our vets along with a parade. This year, at the suggestion of a citizen, City Council issued a “Greenlight a Vet” proclamation. Greenlight a Vet is a national campaign. The color green signifies hope and green-lighting a project is a term signifying forward movement. “The simple gesture of changing one light to green creates a beacon of support and appreciation, and a visible symbol of our commitment to ‘greenlight’ veterans forward as valued members of our communities.” Currently, over 9.3 million Americans are participating in this program. Green bulbs, including LED bulbs, are available at Slavens, Choice Building Supply and Walmart. Please, join with the city in showing your support for our military personnel by displaying a green light throughout the month of November and beyond. Green lights are lit at City Hall, the Rec Center, and the library. It would be wonderful if they were lit throughout Montezuma County!
I’d like to conclude with something for us all to consider. The failure – again – of the mil levy override was disappointing. It is imperative that somehow our community come together to address this issue. Without good teachers, we will not have good schools, and while those who are immediately impacted are our children, over time it will negatively impact the entire community. New businesses are hesitant to locate in communities with struggling schools. Professionals, including health care professionals an aging population needs, will be harder and harder to recruit, and young families who desire a quality education for their children will look elsewhere to raise their children.
I recently visited with a young couple with small children who shared their dismay over the defeat of 4A, saying that while they love living in Cortez, unless something changes, they will consider leaving this area when their children become school-aged. They are not the first to express this concern or, in fact, to leave the area as a result. Without additional money to increase teacher salaries, we will continue to be unable to attract and retain quality teachers. Stores, restaurants and those providing local services won’t see the additional dollars that higher teacher salaries would have generated. Our property values will be affected. But most importantly, how many of our young people will never realize their potential because the teacher who might have unlocked it could not afford to live and work in our community? It’s up to us to find a solution.
Karen Sheek is the mayor of Cortez, a position elected by Cortez City Council members. Reach her at email@example.com or during her office hours from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month.