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Basalt Town Council: Payback, pups, pool and more
City Council
Top: Mayor Jacque Whitsitt, Ryan Slack, Katie Schwoerer Bottom: Gary Tennenbaum, Jennifer Riffle - photo by Jordan Curet

The Basalt Town Council passed a full plate of ordinances and resolutions on Aug. 13 with two members, Councilmen Bill Infante and Auden Schendler, absent.

Pay Back

Current Basalt property owners will begin receiving checks this fall after Basalt Town Council unanimously passed a pair of ordinances that authorize a voluntary refund for property tax overcharges the past four years, and approved a final plan to raise nearly $2 million through the issuance of certificates of participation (COPs). The town will pay approximately $250,000 a year for 10 years to pay off the debt.   

According to Basalt Town Attorney Jeff Conklin, it will be too costly to try and identify past property owners, and he believes case law is on the side of the town in excluding them from the settlement.

A consultant will be hired by the town to determine specific property owners from Pitkin and Eagle counties and the amount they are owed. Refunds are estimated to be $990 for a $1 million home and $3,990 for a $1 million commercial property. The COPs will be marketed to investors with Basalt’s public works building used as collateral. Basalt Town Hall was also discussed as collateral though restrictions on that property would make it less attractive to investors.

The ordinance passed Tuesday includes a provision for town residents who wish to gift back their refund to the town. The former mayor of Basalt, Rick Stevens, has been working to establish a group that would provide taxpayers the opportunity to donate all or part of their refund checks for community-based causes such as child care, early childhood education or affordable housing.

“The idea is to create an entity that would be able to receive donations from people, businesses, property owners, whoever gets a refund, and we would put it into this community chest or social capital fund to use for beneficial purposes,” said Stevens, in an Aspen Daily News story this week.  

The town’s plan for repayment of the property taxes has been discussed multiple times in previous town council meetings. Colorado voters passed TABOR in 1992 to limit future tax collections without a public vote. 

Town staff determined earlier this year that it was their opinion that when the town voted in 1994 to retain revenues in excess of TABOR, they were not authorized to increase the property tax mill levy, and, in succeeding years, the town raised and lowered the mill levy incorrectly so they are now refunding any property taxes they feel were incorrectly charged. TABOR limits liability in such actions to four years.

Mayor Jacque Whitsitt and council members Katie Schwoerer, Ryan Slack, Gary Tennenbaum and Jennifer Riffle unanimously passed the ordinance, 5-0, as Auden Schendler and Bill Infante were absent.

Pups

By a unanimous 5-0 vote,  council approved on second reading an ordinance that would create a leash law for dogs in Basalt and create areas of town where off-leash dogs could roam and play.

“We want to come up with ideas to better enforce leash laws plus (create) an area or areas for off-leash dogs,” explains Basalt Town Manager Ryan Mahoney. 

Town staff worked with Police Chief Greg Knott to identify problem issues and areas where off-leash dogs are creating the main disturbances. During the discussion, council member Jennifer Riffle indicated that she would like to see additional information on how Basalt compares with other local towns regarding dog bites and other issues.

Basalt resident Greg Gordon spoke during public comment and suggested that designated off-leash areas be enclosed with fencing. While the ordinance passed, staff will continue to identify areas of Basalt that could be appropriate for off-leash dogs to play.

Pool

For a number of years, Basalt residents have encouraged the town to improve facilities at Arbaney Park, and the town’s capital improvement plan (CIP) includes funds to do that from 2019 to 2023. The first phase of that master plan includes monies for improvements at the Arbaney Park pool.  

On Tuesday, by a vote of 4-0 (Katie Schwoerer was temporarily absent), town council approved a resolution to hire the design firm Connect One Design Landscape Architecture and Land Planning to evaluate the mechanical, heating and plumbing systems at the Arbaney Pool and recommend necessary upgrades. The firm is also being tasked with design recommendations to create new alternatives for the kiddie pool and the general pool area to increase the added play value and entertainment for children and/or therapeutic amenities for adult guests.

Alice Huddle, project manager for Connect One, attended Tuesday’s meeting to outline the general scope of the project and offer a general timeline for the work. In addition to cosmetic improvements, the firm is being tasked with improving shower rooms, and upgrading mechanical and electrical systems to increase efficiency. 

While the new proposed design of the pool will not be ready for view by users before the existing pool closes in September, both Connect One and the town are interested in getting input from those users and will work to find communication methods that do that including signage and email blasts. Connect One will be returning to council with conceptual designs “in a few months” according to project manager Huddle.

During discussion, council member Gary Tennenbaum noted his happiness with the idea of reviewing and reducing the environmental impacts of the Arbaney pool. 

Swimming activist and teacher Toni Kronberg spoke during public comment and enthusiastically supported the upgrading of the Arbaney pool, noting that town’s plans “exceeded her expectations,” and she pledged to help with public outreach. In the future, Kronberg hopes to begin an after school swimming program in the Basalt schools.

And more

Other town council actions on Tuesday night included unanimously passing an ordinance that approved supplemental appropriations from the current town budget so the town can refund the TABOR money and spend funds received from the sale of the Shining Mountain property.   

Council also approved by a 4-1 vote (Jennifer Riffle voted no) to approve funds for a pedestrian improvement project along Two Rivers Road next to the Roaring Fork River Conservancy for a sidewalk, handrails and retaining walls connecting Old Pond Park to Spring Creek Bridge. 

Riffle said she voted no because of the cost, $454,000, and the fact that she would prefer the sidewalk to be on the opposite side of Two Rivers Road.

Recently, new rules by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regarding 5G technology mandate towns to follow new guidelines and timeframes for addressing new technology applications. This week, the town council adopted new zoning regulations and a special review process to address new applications for 5G wireless technology and facilities before any companies apply to place towers, cell facilities and/or base stations around town. If council had not adopted new rules and a new review process, then a company could have applied and had their application automatically permitted. The new ordinance creates a process so that new wireless applications are reviewed in a timely fashion.

Elected officials also approved extending the employment agreement for Ryan Mahoney, Basalt town manager, by two years with annual reviews. Because of the town’s issues with TABOR, Mahoney did not feel it was a good time to ask for a yearly raise and did not ask for one as part of the package, noting that he and his family are very happy with his current employment.

Finally, town council on Tuesday approved a special events resolution for Willits so that certain streets can be closed administratively in the future for public uses, including entertainment, without a formal review process.

The Basalt Town Council will next meet on Aug. 27.