Petition could force Oak Creek budget decision to public vote | SteamboatToday.com

Petition could force Oak Creek budget decision to public vote

Michael Schrantz

— Oak Creek has some choices to make.

The town has a police department again after recently hiring two officers. A town administrator was hired in the past year. New parks have been built, and cherished amenities such as the ice rink are kept well-maintained.

Now, the budget line item that might make or break those services could make its way onto the ballot.

The most recent property valuation period is leaving Oak Creek with less tax revenue, and the next valuation threatens to be even leaner.

In response, a budget was drafted that made up the loss with management fees assessed, in addition to allocated costs, on the enterprise funds for town utilities.

This isn't the first time money has been moved from utilities to the town's general fund: Transfers were budgeted for or made in 1999, 2001, 2004 and 2005. And the practice isn't uncommon in cities that manage municipal utilities as proprietary funds: Overhead fees, administrative fees, transfers, franchise fees and payments in lieu of taxes are used to contribute to the general funds of other municipalities in Colorado.

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But Oak Creek property owner Scott Wedel and former mayor Kathy "Cargo" Rodeman have submitted a petition seeking to limit the town to recouping actual expenses from the enterprise funds or to have the matter brought before the voters.

The management fees, if left as indicated in the 2013 draft budget, would make up 44.6 percent of the town's overall revenue. No rate increases are planned for electric or sewer utilities. Water rates will change as meters are installed and a flat fee system is phased out. Trash services are out to bid.

"We will lose our newly hired police. We will lose my position," Town Administrator Mary Alice Page-Allen said Thursday when telling the Oak Creek Town Board about the petition and the potential of being prohibited from using the fees as a revenue source. "We will have a billing clerk and a (Public) Works Department."

Town Board member Wendy Gustafson defended the fees Thursday night as a good business practice and a way for the town to be compensated for the resources on which the utilities draw. Page-Allen described the funds as a dividend to the residents of Oak Creek.

Wedel said Wednesday that he is concerned about the amount of the fees being almost as much as revenues from property taxes and sales taxes combined. He also questioned what might happen to the size of the fees when property tax revenue falls again in 2014, saying he is concerned about the ability of the funds to provide for future capital project needs.

Rodeman could not be reached Wednesday.

Wedel said he went to the board during the previous year's budget workshop with concerns about future revenue shortfalls. Gustafson said Wednesday that the Town Board did discuss in past years what cuts the town could afford and always encourages department leaders to find savings.

Without the petition or if approved unchanged, the fees could be revisited in each budgetary cycle. The language of the petition or of a potential ballot question has not been set and could seek to impose restrictions.

Wedel said he's not against the voters approving the fees. "I want the voters to have the voice," he said.

If voters reject the fees and services and employees start to disappear from Oak Creek, that's their decision, Wedel said.

"You always risk something. You have to trust the voters," Wedel said. "You can't have a democracy if you don't trust voters."

The cost of a special election is estimated at $3,000, Page-Allen said. Wedel said it is possible the issue wouldn’t come before voters before the April municipal election.

Town Board members discussed the difficult decision to assess the management fees at Thursday's meeting.

"I've heard from only one person, and she didn't like it, but she understood it, and she wanted police in Oak Creek," Town Board member Jenny Lewis said.

"If we had a choice, let the funds keep more of their assets. And maybe we can get more infrastructure fixed faster," Town Board member Josh Voorhis said. "We don't live in a perfect world. I don't see what any other options are. I have yet to hear any solutions."

To reach Michael Schrantz, call 970-871-4206 or email mschrantz@SteamboatToday.com

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