The Basalt Town Council got its first look at the town’s proposed budget for 2020 Tuesday night at the council’s regular meeting, and while few of the numbers are set in stone, the 54-page document paints a picture of a town on solid financial footing.
After a few years of financial uncertainty caused by the town’s inadvertent property tax violations, costs related to Basalt River Park and other issues, Basalt is projected to have nearly twice as much in its general fund ($10,440,890 vs. $5,249,853) this year than it did in 2018.
The first draft of the budget, which will be available for public viewing starting tomorrow, Oct. 11, is also intended to counter a notion held by some locals that the Basalt town government is sometimes less than overt in its dealings.
“This budget represents the next step in fiscal transparency and accountability and some of the strategy we’ve been implementing financially to work toward those goals,” said Christy Hamrick, Basalt’s finance director.
One of the main points that Hamrick lauded was the separation of the general fund into two accounts – a restricted fund and an unrestricted fund – which will make it much easier to track where the town’s money comes from and how it gets spent.
“Now, we’re going to be able to clearly see – the council’s going to be able to clearly see, the community’s going to be able to clearly see, I’m going to be able to clearly see – the operating funds and whether or not we’re operating at a surplus or a shortfall,” said Hamrick.
To make the budget and its aims easier to follow, the document outlines its strategic goals related to the community, the local economy and the environment in plain English in the first three pages. It’s a way to give some context to the numbers that follow, and it’s a feature Hamrick would like to see maintain its relevance as the budget gets finalized.
“In the final version, we’re looking at having the strategy be an actual tab in the document to show the importance right at the front,” said Hamrick. “And then it should be readable throughout the document so that you can look through it and see where those things align.”
The meat of the budget starts on page 6, where the fund balances are outlined. And for those who aren’t certain what that means, Hamrick explained.
“For the community and for everybody to understand what a fund balance is, I like to call it your beginning checkbook balance,” she said. “Obviously, there are some things that are restricted and a little more complex than that, but that’s basically what it is.”
In essence, it means that Basalt will enter 2020 with more than $10 million in the bank. By far the biggest contributor to that is sales tax, which is the source of well over half of the town’s projected unrestricted revenue (money not earmarked for a specific purpose) and slightly less than half of its restricted revenue. Property taxes are second in unrestricted revenue, accounting for about one eighth, and licenses and permits are second in restricted revenue, making up about one quarter. The rest of the money comes from other taxes and miscellaneous sources.
The budget gets into the minutiae of the town’s expenses later in the document, and it will take the council a while to wade through all the numbers on their own and in one-on-one sessions with Hamrick and Basalt Town Manager Ryan Mahoney. After that, they’ll make their suggestions and recommendations, and the budget will be revised for a second draft to be presented to the council on Nov. 19.
In its final pages, the budget gets into its Capital Vision, an outline of some capital improvements that are on the town’s to-do list. They’ll be amended and given relative priorities based on future fund balances and input from the community, the master plan and the council, but if the current financial picture is any indication, it’s likely the town will be able to get to many of the items on its list next year. “It’s the first time since I’ve been in Basalt that we’ve been able to be forward thinking and forward looking because we had some projects we were paying for already and we had the TABOR (property tax) issue,” said Mahoney. “Now, I kind of feel like it’s a great opportunity to start thinking about what’s next.”