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As Buena Vista Trustees get ready to focus on the 2019 budget at a work session Tuesday evening, Dec. 11, Buena Vista Town Administrator Phillip Puckett is laser focused on what he calls “the town’s highest priority” the capital needs critical to the town’s safety.

“My biggest concern is that we aren’t prepared for an emergency. We dogged a bullet this year, but it’s not a matter of if, but when, something is going to happen,” said Puckett. “It hit home when we deployed our brush truck first to Durango, then to California to help fight the wild land fires. We need more infrastructure.”

During a meeting in his office, where his white board is covered in neat sticky notes breaking down town project needs by “parking lot” “doing” and “done,” he reviewed the town’s urgent capital needs. Asked if the town’s bid for an occupational lodging tax that failed in November impacted the budget work, he said “We projected an occupational lodging tax could raise $200,000 for critical needs, but we never put it in this budget. So we didn’t have to adjust that.”

The capital needs placed in the draft 2019 budget represent only five percent of the overall budget, but Puckett said the need is urgent. They include a lease-buy arrangement for a new ladder fire truck and a new rescue pumper and breathing apparatus (short for Self Contained Breathing Apparatus) for emergency responders. The fire truck and the breathing apparatus would be acquired on lease-purchase arrangements (four years for the truck and five years for the SCBA equipment). The arrangement will cost the town more money over the leasing period than an outright purchase, but Puckett was blunt about what a delay in acquiring the equipment would mean.

“Technically we don’t have a ladder fire truck that can reach the top of our historical buildings,” said Puckett. “We’re using the Chaffee County truck which is broken down and not reliable. We don’t have emergency rescue gear. We have to move on this because it’s a matter of public safety. The board is behind this, but the reality is there are so many more expectations. The town and the people will have to decide in the next few years, what the priorities are.”

The roughly $10.2 million 2019 budget, a 3.5 percent over the town’s 2018 adjusted budget of close to $9.7 million, is based on a careful, ten-year analysis of the town’s revenue growth. The budget reveals the town’s struggle between the urgent and the important. Economics is a factor in how the budget is prepared.

“For the projection I took ten years and did a trend forecast. We looked and (revenue) growth is consistently trending at three or four percent growth and the board of trustees chose a 3.5 percent projected increase,” said Finance Director and Treasurer Michelle Stoke. “When we say it’s built following 2018 (revenue), it is over a lot of really good years. With the continued visitor growth, the town didn’t suffer a whole lot in the last downturn.

“We do have hold-overs and re-appropriated items, so it might look like a negative or an over-expenditure, but its not,” said Stokes. “The Colorado state statute says you can’t spend more than your revenues and your beginning fund balance – think of it as owner equity.”

The struggle, say Puckett and Stokes, is that the town’s capital needs related to public safety are greater than the revenue growth. “While we’ve kept up with our police department, we’ve fallen behind in our fire department. Our fire fighters are also our first responders for medical calls, and those are the vast majority of our calls,” said Puckett. “We don’t have a ladder truck. We’re behind on staffing – we’re in the midst of a shift from an all-volunteer fire department to a staffed department – as the town and business has grown, people can’t volunteer. We can’t fit a truck with a ladder high enough to fight a three-story fire in the fire house. We have no place for fire crews to sleep.”

“During summer time visitors pushes us to capacity,” said Stokes. “Being able to respond to emergencies is critical. Our fire chief has put in place a good training plan and requirements for our volunteers and the shift to paid staff – but we also need the working equipment. We need to catch up. We need to be able to spend more money to buy the emergency equipment that we need. The fire department building is not just old – it’s dysfunctional.”

Stokes said that to meet staffing needs the town is again applying for a grant called SAFER, that helps small municipalities ramp up staffing. “We didn’t get it for 2019, so we removed that from the budget, but we’re applying for it again for 2020.”

Puckett explained that lease equipment has to be fitted to the community. “Small pedestrian-friendly streets means we have to have equipment that works here – we have an issue with our fixed assets – we need to be able to spend money to buy the emergency equipment that we need. Also the fire department building is not just old – but moving to a new staff structure with a chief and two paid fire fighters – we have no place for them to sleep. We share the current building with the North Chaffee County Emergency Operations Center. So we have equipment storage problems. We aren’t ready for emergency situations – the fire station had no generator during the Christmas wind storm two years ago when the power went out. They had to lift those bay doors by hand; that’s not right.”

“Then there is response to emergencies. We have a Memo of Understanding with the Red Cross as an emergency center and we don’t have an emergency generator for the Community Center to make it a crisis gathering point to cook food, or keep folks warm, or supply oxygen,” said Puckett.

He pointed out that the town’s proximity to recreational lands is an asset. “There is a vision for the BLM (Bureau of Land Management). Expanding that network could have an amazing economic impact on the town – it can be the driver toward town revenue, but we’ll have to decide our prioritizations as a town.”

While he focused on just five percent of the town’s $1.02 million 2019 budget, Puckett was quick to point out that the town can be proud of what it is funding. “We’re running an airport and a water department. We’re constructing a $2 million water project beginning next year – we want to continue to express that all this is possible because of the people of this town.”

Buena Vista Budget Snapshot
  2018 adjusted budget     2019 budget requests
Total revenue: all funds   $9,493,636    $10,064,459
Total expenses: all funds  $9,679,051* $10,213,795

* Includes 2018 carry over items