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Walsenburg’s 2016 budget reflects water, sewer, and gas rate increases New rates in February 2016 bills

by Eric Mullens
WJ  250x55WALSENBURG —  Walsenburg City Administrator David Johnston presented his annual budget message to city council Tuesday night, and while city department heads didn’t get everything they wanted, local rate payers are expected to get something they didn’t want; increased utility costs.
The city will face financial challenges in the coming year.  Johnston said preliminary work continues to identify the scope of necessary work needed to repair the five city dams, the raw water line, and the water storage tank on East Spruce St. as required by the state.
Revenue projections for the year 2016 include a modest increase designed only to offset increased operational costs, Johnston said in the budget letter.  “Natural gas department rates in the 2016 budget have been increased ten percent,” he said.  Johnston said this increase had been planned for this year, but was delayed.  “Water and sewer rates are projected to increase by five percent in each department due to increased maintenance and repair costs,” he said. 
Johnston said the new budget includes a 5.1 percent across-the-board wage increase for all city employees. 
“City administration has undertaken to provide all necessary services in as cost-efficient a manner as possible,” Johnston said in the budget overview.  “For the first time since 2009, the 2016 budget anticipates the hiring of additional personnel in the police and gas departments.  Due to budgetary revenue restraints, the city continues to be unable to perform services at the same levels provided in recent years,” he said.
Johnston told the city council the budget has been under construction for several months and the document presented Tuesday night was the fourth revision from the initial 2016 budget.  “It has been among the goals of the city administration to restore city services to levels expected by the city’s residents; operate the city’s General Fund at a surplus- not a deficit; return the city to a position of prosperity, strength and resilience; plan, maintain and achieve expansion of the city’s infrastructure; build and maintain trust and cooperation among the city council, city administration and the citizens they collectively serve, and, adequately provide for the employees of the city,” Johnston said.
Johnston said the coming year promises to be one of growth for Walsenburg with bid packages and bid requirements being assembled for the Northlands project.  “If all goes well,” Johnston wrote, “the sewer project should be completed early in the third quarter of 2016, if not before.”  He said the long-awaited project should open over 550 acres of the city to commercial and residential development.
 Johnston said the Love’s Travel Center, to be built at the south entrance to the community off of I-25, will be under construction in April and should open for business in the fourth quarter of the coming year.  Addressing the Martra Holdings purchase of land on the City Ranch,  Johnston said the company hopes to have infrastructure for its 98 greenhouses under construction sometime within the first three months of 2016.  “Each of these projects should bring new employees and families to the Walsenburg area, and in turn, should create the need for other supporting businesses along the city’s main thoroughfares,” Johnston said in the Nov. 17th dated budget message.
Also in the budget message, the administrator said while the city has made good headway in its efforts to recover from the effects of the recent recession and poor economy, the community still is suffering from a declining population.
“The General Fund does not yet enjoy a positive fund balance but is reducing the deficit each year,” Johnston reported.  He said assessed valuations in the city show a marginal increase and sales tax collections within the city limits are also trending upward.

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