NEW CASTLE — The town council got its first look on Tuesday at the proposed 2014 municipal budget, which essentially reflects a continuing decline in revenues and the challenges of taking on high-profile projects in that financial climate, according to Town Administrator Tom Baker.
As submitted, the general fund calls for revenues and expenditures of about $2.4 million for the town’s operating expenses, down from approximately $2.8 million in 2012. The overall proposed budget for 2014, including utilities and other dedicated funds, is to be approximately $2.9 million, Baker said.
Baker explained that property tax revenues, which continue to reflect the loss of property values from the Great Recession of 2008, have dropped by roughly 29 percent. That means the town can expect revenue declines in 2014 and 2015, of about $108,000 per year, from property taxes.
Other revenues, he said, also are continuing to come in at lower levels than before the recession.
For instance, Baker said, the town’s collection of mineral severance taxes and lease fees from the oil and gas industry also are in free fall, having declined from $475,000 in 2012 to $282,000 this year and an anticipated $225,000 in 2014. These revenues come from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, and are paid by oil and gas companies working in the Piceance Basin and other areas of the state to develop oil and gas reserves.
Baker said the revenue declines come to more than $350,000 for the coming year, when compared to past years.
On a brighter note, Baker continued, town sales tax collections are up by nearly 4 percent over those in 2012, which he said has helped offset the revenue losses.
Sales tax collections are expected to continue to rise, Baker said, pointing to the planned opening of Garcia’s restaurant and grocery store, Maude’s bakery and cafe, and the recent opening of Small Planet Bikes, purveyors of electric bikes, all on Main Street.
Baker also expressed the hope that improvements to the town’s website, which have begun and are expected to continue into next year, will help bring more business into town.
“What the council did this year is, they got a lot of people energized around the 125th anniversary events,” which will continue into December, Baker noted.
This has raised awareness locally and in the region of New Castle’s historic role in the area and of its attractions, Baker said.
“The heritage, the culture of the area is what makes a lot of people come here,” Baker said, indicating that the website improvements should help to raise the town’s profile in the area.
Among the big projects planned for next year, or perhaps the following year if funding falls short in 2014, is a new pedestrian bridge from near the Main Street/Castle Valley Boulevard intersection, over I-70 and the Colorado River, connecting the north and south banks of the river and allowing pedestrians a safer route than crossing on the existing vehicular bridge that connects Main Street to I-70.
Baker said the design phase of the bridge project is nearly complete, and that the town is awaiting news of a state grant that would augment money the town already has socked away for the pedestrian bridge project.
Another big ticket item is a plan to make improvements to a six-acre parcel of land deeded to the town in return for approvals at the Lakota subdivision, Baker said.
The next discussion of the budget will be at a work session on Oct. 14, at which the budget talks are expected to last from 6-8:30 p.m. Any leftover topics, Baker added, would be discussed by the council at a regular meting on Oct. 15.
“We’re hoping this will be done by Thanksgiving,” Baker said, noting that the budget must be adopted by mid-December under state law.
The public is invited to attend all budget hearings and meetings.
In other action on Tuesday, the council gave preliminary approval to a general plan to offer incentives to encourage businesses to locate in New Castle, under a policy devised by Councilor Bruce Leland and the town’s Economic Advisory Committee.
The incentives, which could include the waiver of certain fees, extension of infrastructure to development sites at town expense and local tax rebates, would be considered on a “case by case basis,” Baker emphasized, and would only be granted “if there’s enough bang for the buck,” meaning the town benefits as well as the developer.