Lean times in Silt
Post Independent Staff
Like the famed bumper sticker says, “Silt Happens.” But sales tax revenue from Silt’s small commercial base isn’t happening, at least not to the extent needed to support the town.
Because of this, Silt officials are operating their town with one eye on the coffers and another on the future. And even though the future looks bright in terms of residential development, without commercial tax revenue, Silt is being forced to operate on a shoestring.
According to figures from the state of Colorado, from 1990-1999, the five-mile radius around Silt saw a 22 percent increase in population.
Now, the area has upwards of 4,000 residents. But commercial development hasn’t kept up with residential growth, hitting Silt hard financially.
“It’s pretty simple,” said newly appointed town administrator Rick Aluise. “If you have people, you have to have businesses. You can’t have one without the other.”
That’s why Aluise and new town finance director Dawn Robier are tightening Silt’s belt, while looking for new commercial outlets such as restaurants, a grocery store, banks and retail businesses to help finance town operations.
“Our sales tax revenue is negligible,” said Aluise, who was employed as Silt’s town clerk for a few months prior to Silt trustees’ appointing him town administrator in October. “And we can’t function just off property taxes.”
“Our largest commercial tax revenue comes from the Gofer food store,” said Silt police chief Paul Taylor, “and that’s totally unacceptable.”
Robier reported general fund spending for 2001 at $1.3 million. The 2002 general fund climbed to $1.57 million, and the proposed 2003 fund went up a hair to $1.58 million.
To keep those numbers down, Aluise and Robier imposed a spending freeze, and a hiring freeze on Silt’s staff.
“We won’t have any cost-of-living increases for employees,” Robier said. “The only increase we’re offering is a 2 percent pay increase based on performance. But that’s not automatic. We’re asking department heads to administrate that raise based on merit.”
Conservative spending goes for capital expenditures too.
“We’re asking department heads, if they don’t absolutely need it, not to buy it,” said Robier. “We’re operating on bare essentials.”
This freezing philosophy was evident at a meeting last Tuesday regarding Colorado West Regional Health Center’s detox center. Police chief Taylor, along with police chiefs and town leaders from nearby municipalities, is being asked to support Colorado West’s detox center in downtown Glenwood Springs so it won’t be permanently closed at the end of this year. Silt is being asked to give $1,960 to the center.
But Taylor was adamant about not giving any funds to the center. On Monday he explained he had not made any room in either his 2002 or 2003 budgets for the center.
“Our law enforcement officers do not take individuals to the detox center,” he said, adding that Silt police take all intoxicated offenders directly to Garfield County Jail or release them to a sober adult. He said that since June 2002, only three people from Silt had admitted themselves voluntarily to detox, and those people had been billed individually for services.
That’s why at last Tuesday’s meeting, Taylor told Colorado West staff he wasn’t prepared to give the detox center any funds, saying “a recent 37 percent town-wide budget cut makes it unlikely” the town would be able to pay up.
Aluise said he wasn’t certain where Taylor got the “37 percent town-wide” budget cut figure, but “percentages aside, Silt is on a tight budget like every town in the state, as well as the state itself.”
Monday, Taylor said his budget has been cut from $418,000 last year to $360,000 this year, a 14 percent cut.
“Call it whatever you want,” he said. “It may not be 37 percent and it may not be town-wide, but across the board, Silt’s budgets have been cut substantially.”
Silt Mayor Pro Tem Tod Tibbetts agreed town officials are seriously considering the consequences if they “don’t start cutting back now.”
“We are focusing on balancing our budgets,” Tibbetts said.
But Taylor said even belt tightening isn’t going to work without a major commercial entity – or more – coming to town.
“We need a construction-based business like Home Depot or Sutherland’s,” he said, adding that because Rifle recently approved a Wal-Mart superstore, a supermarket wouldn’t likely make it in Silt.
As this belt-tightening occurs, Silt is rebounding from a tumultuous year when the town’s administrator and building inspector left their posts under dubious circumstances. But now, with new staff in place and upcoming developments such as Stillwater and Spruce Meadows in the works, Silt officials are determined to stabilize the town and build up its commercial core.
Aluise moved to Silt from Wellington, a small town north of Fort Collins, where he was town manager and clerk. He said Wellington’s town finances were in better shape, since there is better balance there between homes and businesses. Because businesses are charged three times as much for property tax as homeowners, the town can afford to operate on a more even keel.
That’s not the case with Silt. There are only a handful of small businesses in the downtown core, and none like a supermarket that can generate a hefty tax bill and sales tax receipts.
Aluise isn’t coming into Silt blind, however. He’s quite familiar with the Colorado River Valley. His mother was raised in Silt and his father in Rifle.
Robier hails from out of the valley. The former finance director for the city of Idaho Springs, she lives in Meeker and commutes to her job in Silt.
She said the daily drive is nothing compared to commuting to Idaho Springs, and telecommuting, which didn’t allow her to feel connected to her workplace. In Silt, she feels like she’s part of the town.
Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext 518
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