Marijuana ballot question vote postponed
MONTE VISTA— Monte Vista City Council held their regularly scheduled meeting Thursday evening, Aug. 17. Mayor Pro Tem Carol Schroeder led the meeting in place of Mayor Debbie Garcia, as Garcia previously announced her absence due to a school event for her children.
Council started the meeting by presenting certificates of appreciation to information technology staff members Brandon Gallegos and Jon Martinez for their first year of service with the city. With no citizens offering comments, the liquor licenses for China Garden, Rio Bravo Liquor and Baldo’s Restaurant were all approved unanimously as no violations have been reported over the last year for any of the three businesses.
Finance Director Heather Hixson and City Manager Forrest Neuerburg presented resolution 08-2017 to council, “A resolution approving an amended budget and appropriation of funds for the calendar year 2017 to authorized expenditure and revenue for general fund, urban renewal fund, capital improvement fund and capital projects fund.” The city council discussed the state of the budget in a special work session in June of this year, due to unexpended expenditures, the city then projected using $113,000 of the general fund balance, leaving approximately $347,000 in the General Fund less TABOR restrictions of $101,000 which would ultimately leave $246,000 unrestricted fund balance. The resolution at Thursday’s meeting was the culmination of work by Neuerburg and Hixson to remedy or compensate for some of the additional expenditures leading to that situation.
Additional expenditures in the budget resolution included items like $30,000 for overtime pay for the police department, $15,000 for prisoner custody, $51,000 for equipment maintenance and repair for the streets department (please see the Aug. 9 edition of the Monte Vista Journal), $15,003 for street and police department vehicle leases and $23,898 for a boiler lease. Some funds were over-budgeted, including anticipated surcharges from the police department were budgeted as $50,000 and will only bring in an estimated $25,000. However, the city will receive an unexpected additional $45,000 in sales tax revenue and transferred money from the water fund and sewer fund to the general fund, reduced an urban renewal line item and included several changes to the capital improvement fund and capital projects fund. $111,000 of expenditures from the street repair and maintenance line item in the capital projects fund was removed, but the capital improvement fund balance was increased by $15,859. The changes effectively capped street repairs at only necessary pothole repair and cold mix asphalt for the rest of the year. The resolution resulted in an estimated $10,342 surplus in the General Fund.
Hixson stated “I feel these numbers are attainable as long as we don’t have any unexpected equipment breakdowns or major building repairs.” Councilor Joe Schlabach commented on the resolution before council unanimously passed it, telling fellow councilors “…maybe we didn’t have the best budget but we as council need to make sure we know what’s going on,” and commented to department heads for the next budget year, “We’re tightening the belt…Those are everybody’s tax dollars and we have to spend them responsibly and ethically…We’re not going to keep dipping into the savings account.” Neuerburg agreed, adding the increase in sales tax revenue was a good sign and returned to Mayor Garcia’s theme from the previous meeting, saying council would take a hard look at “needs and wants.”
Council also reviewed a resolution regarding the wording of the ballot question to allow marijuana facilities within city limits as well as their proposed 18 percent tax. Planning and Zoning Commissioners Ruthanna Seger and Barbara Sears spoke to council when the discussion began, noting they had completed most of the work on the proposed zoning ordinance the previous week and jokingly apologized to City Attorney Karen Lintott, “ I know you told us if we had anything to add to tell you by Tuesday, but we found this information yesterday,” Sears said, presenting council with the marijuana ballot question used by the town of Crestone. Sears explained they were under the impression that because of TABOR rules, the question for a municipality to opt-in/out of marijuana sales and the sales tax question had to be different, but Crestone had combined the two into one question presented to voters, expressing their opinion that Monte Vista should consider doing a single question too. Seger explained, “…some people just see a tax increase [on the ballot] and mark ‘no,’” adding they wouldn’t want to see marijuana pass without the additional sales taxes that would benefit the city.
Councilor Matthew Martinez acknowledged the reality of their concerns, noting the example of the town of South Fork, which had the opposite resolution, where the tax question passed but the opt-in status did not, making the former redundant. Neuerburg informed council they could table the resolution until the next meeting, giving Lintott the ability to review the legality of consolidating the question, so both options could be considered by council. Schlabach agreed, stating, “We should do our due diligence” to explore that possibility and motioned accordingly. Councilor Jason Lorenz interjected, asking if council should just put the tax question alone without a question that allowed sales, “Could we just put the tax question up and then decide what to do next year?” Lorenz was met with confusion from the other councilors, but did not further clarify on the benefits of his proposition.
Attendee Jim Poston approached council, pointing out language in the resolution which stated “WHEREAS, the City Council finds it to be in the best interests of the City of Monte Vista to request the voters approve an increase in taxes through the imposition of a sales and/or excise tax on marijuana products should the voters determine that marijuana facilities of any type should be allowed within the City;” asking if that made Lorenz’s proposal redundant, but Neuerburg stated the resolution language was not the ballot question, which was later in the resolution but it was thus not applicable. As there was a motion on the floor, council unanimously voted to postpone their vote on the language of the ballot questions until the Sept. 7 meeting, with Neuerburg cautioning the language would have to be submitted to the state by Sept. 8 so the question would need to be finalized at that meeting.
Interim Police Chief Eddie Rodriguez was not present for his report due to a previously scheduled appointment, but his written report noted the month of July, “The Monte Vista Police Department had a reported 1,414 calls for service…five drug related arrests... There were 12 calls for service for drunk pedestrians and three reports for possible drunk driving concerns and two pursuits…The month of July reported to have an increase of thefts and burglaries showing 31thefts and 18 burglaries. These reports also include shoplifting.” Rodriguez’s report also noted Officer Robert Pino will be attending trainings to assist in the local schools as a school resource officer.
Public Works Director Rob Vance began his report by stating, “Believe it or not, I don’t have much to report tonight,” which was met with a joke from Schroeder calling for the occasion to be marked. Vance did acknowledge his two summer parks employees, Caleb Cotton and Justin Johnson, who completed their seasonal employment, “They did a very good job for us and I am proud that they chose to work for us…I’m very proud of those two young men.” Vance added he would have a PowerPoint to present next month on more options for replacement street sweepers.
City Clerk Unita Vance told council the city court has recently handled 72 cases and Judge Dan Powell has issued 12 failure-to-appear bench warrants. The two defendants who have been arrested so far will remain in jail until Sept. 5 due to the nature of their original charges. Vance told council about the election orientation she hosted on Aug. 7 for residents interested in running for the open council positions or mayor. Vance stated she made 15 packets for signatures and all but three have been issued so far.
Gallegos returned to present the IT report, apologizing that Director Jim Belknap was not present as he had a minor medical emergency to attend to. Gallegos stated seven locks were provided to the city by the manufacturer, free of charge, when issues were found with the original locks used in IT’s efforts to better secure city hall. Gallegos noted some computers were being replaced and the video link between municipal court and the Rio Grande and Alamosa County jails was operating.