During a public hearing on Tuesday, the Cortez City Council voted to approve a $32.28 million budget for 2018.
The budget includes a roughly $1 million increase in spending from the 2017 budget, which was just over $31 million, but a decrease from the $32.37 million draft budget proposed to the council at its latest budget workshop on Nov. 28. Most of the increases come from capital projects planned for next year and planned increases in employee wages. City manager Shane Hale said the decreases were a result of feedback from department heads during recent workshops.
According to reports from the finance department, the city came in almost $900,000 under budget for 2017, and its general fund reserves grew by more than $100,000. While the city’s spending went over budget in a few departments, such as the water fund, most were well under budget.
In the Cortez Community Network fund, which would have paid for the city’s ongoing fiber project, expenditures were more than $1 million less than budgeted at the beginning of the year. The city’s fiber project has been on hold for about two years, and fiber was only installed in a few areas in 2017.
Finance director Kathi Moss said her department began working on 2018 budget documents in July. The council began holding budget hearings for city departments in early October.
“The budget is a very time-consuming task that takes place over a period of many months,” Mayor Karen Sheek said. “It requires the dedication and the hard work of all the department heads.”
Hale presented a positive view of next year’s budget in a memo included in the council’s meeting packet. He said the city received about 6 percent more revenue from sales tax collections in 2017 compared with 2016, although severance tax and federal mineral leasing revenues were down. This was the second year in a row, he said, that the city’s general fund reserve balance increased.
Many of the spending increases in 2018 are due to one-time capital projects. One is the planned replacement of the Cortez Police Department’s heating, air conditioning and ventilation system, estimated at $600,000. The city also plans to purchase 50 acres of land owned by Keith Evans for $50,000, in order to add it to the Geer Natural Area. The most expensive land acquisition on the city budget is the purchase of 14 acres of property formerly occupied by the Montezuma-Cortez High School, which the city plans to turn into a park. That will cost $354,000, and the purchase is contingent upon the city receiving a grant from Great Outdoors Colorado.
The city also plans to conduct several paving projects in 2018, including a resurfacing of North Dolores Road. The budget includes $650,000 for those projects. Another $975,000 has been budgeted for downtown improvements, including the installation of medians on four blocks of Main Street.
A total of $715,000 has been budgeted for improvements to the city’s water distribution system, which will include the replacement of about 1,800 feet of pipeline and repairs on the water treatment plant.
Another factor that will affect the 2018 budget is a salary increase for city employees. Hale said wages will increase a total of 2.5 percent in 2018. Individual employees will receive between a 1 percent and 4 percent raise, depending on their performance the previous year.
“It is important that the city remain competitive with wage and benefits,” he wrote in the memo.
The budget set the 2018 mill levy at 1.21 mills per $1,000 of assessed property value, which Hale estimated would generate about $108,500 in revenue next year.
During the meeting, the council also approved the 2018 fees and charges for several city services. Refuse collection fees will go up 5 percent in 2018, or $1 more per month for residences. The dumpster lock fee will increase from $25 to $40 per lock. Water rates will increase 10 percent, meaning the cost for a residential water meter will go up from $19.80 to $21.80 per month, and the water usage charge will increase from $2.65 to $2.92 per 1,000 gallons of water used.
Several Conquistador Golf Course fees went up, including the cost for season passes and golf cart registration. The fees for a few recreational sports programs offered by the city also increased. Prices at the Cortez Recreation Center will stay the same, except that registration for the fitness classes offered there is now included in the cost of an annual pass.
The fees for public works services, which include a wide variety of construction permits and equipment rentals, will stay the same except for flatbed truck rental fees, which will increase from $65 to $70, and asphalt patch-back fees, which will increase by 15 percent.
In addition to the main city budget, the council approved a $142,957 budget for the hydroelectric power plant – about a $100 increase from the revised 2017 budget. An increase in the fees the city pays to the Cortez Sanitation District in exchange for providing water meter data was also approved, bringing the monthly fee to $1,100 per month.
The council voted unanimously, with member Tim Miller absent, to approve the 2018 budget and all the fee changes that came with it. The budget will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2018.