Monticello City Council discusses budgetary issues and summer events during pandemic

City finances and opening the swimming pool took center stage at the May 12 meeting of the Monticello City Council. City Manager Doug Wright led a discussion on how the COVID-19 pandemic would change city finances. 

An 11.6 percent decline in sales tax revenue is expected for the fiscal year which begins July 1. Before the pandemic struck, the city had a 12.6 percent increase in sales tax revenue.

With $350,000 budgeted for sales tax revenue, around $75,000 now needs to be cut from the budget. 

The analysis also provided a wide range of possibilities for sales tax decreases, with the most pessimistic at 24.6 percent. Wright recommended revising the budget for a 15 percent sales tax decrease. He notes the council can revise the budget based on new numbers.  

Wright notes that the city does not have a lot of fluff in the personnel department and would look at other avenues for cutting elsewhere first. He also notes that insurance coverage would go up 5.8 percent this year, and the city needs to account for that. 

Wright said, “Bottom line for the general government budget, we are looking at reducing our original budget from $2,131,500 to $2,007,699.” 

Based on tax predictions, the reduced amount is projected to include deficit spending of $112,471. Without a revised budget, deficit spending would be $237,200. 

Wright believes the estimates for a sharp reduction in sales tax “ultimately won’t hold true,” but the city still looks to cut $75,000 to $80,000 from the budget. 

Wright said sewer and water projects are becoming more urgent each year and would not be cut. 

A budget worksheet will be presented at the next meeting for fiscal year 2021. 

Wright also addressed revenue and expenditures for city recreation in a discussion that preceded public comment regarding re-opening the pool this summer. 

The city pool brought in $5,552 for the fiscal year, which began in July 2019. The city budgeted for $12,000, which will be adjusted when or if the pool opens. 

Operating expenses for the pool exceed $90,000 each year. About $45,000 is a loan payment for the 10-year-old facility. The other $45,000 in operating expenses include unavoidable expenses as well.

Revenue for the golf course includes $196,118 for rounds, more than $14,000 for food and beverage, $29,600 for merchandise, and $1,635 for the driving range. Total expenses for the golf course exceed $350,000. 

Wright also discussed expenditures and grants for the city airport. Expenses top $38,000, but grants from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have offset expenses. Discontinuing funding for the airport would cost more in attorney fees than to maintain it. 

“Every time we accept FAA grants, we agree to operate it,” said Wright. 

After the discussion of the budget, the public was allowed to comment. Public comment lasted more than an hour and included comments from 21 residents. They were concerned with state-issued health orders and the city pool closure. 

Becky Acton expressed concern over Constitutional rights during the pandemic. She said, “We in San Juan County have always stood up for freedom and resisted government overreach.

“We stand up for right and truth. We stand up for the Constitution – but I don’t feel like we’re doing that right now... Let’s stand up, stand out, and start opening up the county. Our economy needs it; our morale as a community definitely needs it.”

Shanon Brooks agreed, “If we did start opening up and show people we are welcoming people, we could turn around some of those numbers.

“We could give a lot of hope to a lot of the country who are experiencing what we’re experiencing. Why are we penalizing everyone for what a small percentage of the population is experiencing?”

San Juan County Public Health Director Kirk Benge asked to weigh in on the situation, especially in regards to opening up San Juan County.

He was careful and considerate with his words, occasionally pausing as he became emotional over the toll the virus is taking. 

“It’s difficult to make these decisions when you don’t have any cases,” said Benge.

“I’d like us to make our decisions on the best available data. That’s the one tool we’ve got. Things ahead of us are not okay yet.

“It takes us two weeks to see the impact of what we’re doing. And that’s one of the troubles with the virus. We could all say, ‘Buck the law. Let’s do whatever, have a celebration, get back to church,’ and it would be two weeks before we see anybody hospitalized and potentially die.

“It’s a big risk. 80,000 dead across the nation... It’s just barely started. We’re just untouched here. We’re lucky.

“I take that back – it’s not luck. It took a lot of effort from a lot of people who were paying attention to protect us.” 

Mayor Tim Young observed, “The truth is, Monticello has a lot of old people. We could easily lose hundreds of people. How many people over 80 have horrible lungs? There’s a balance there. We need to protect people.”

The discussion moved to opening the pool. The council reviewed the guidelines for orange- and yellow-coded risk scenarios. Residents asked if the requirements would be upheld by the teenage lifeguards and wondered if the responsibility on their shoulders is too much. 

Sarah English made the case to open the pool with precautionary measures. She said the lifeguards are capable of taking temperatures. 

“They’re certified in CPR to save a child’s life, so I think they’re capable of taking a temperature,” she said. 

She also noted that 50 percent capacity is rare for the pool. She said four certified lifeguards are interested in returning and six others are interested if the job is available.

Pool Manager Kaeden Kulo and City Recreation Direction Shane Christensen report the pool is well-maintained and will be ready to go within a week. They said lifeguard training can be completed within ten days. 

The council voted to delay a decision until the state moves into the yellow-coded risk category. Since the meeting, the state moved to the yellow-coded risk category, but the council has yet to make a decision. 

In other business, the council discussed the interlocal agreement with San Juan County. Wright senses that every entity is trying to minimize spending, including money for other entities. 

Last year, the county provided $40,000 in snow removal for the city. Wright said the county has expressed reservation that the city provides the county with an equal amount of fire services. 

Wright also updated the council on law enforcement within the city. San Juan County Sheriff Jason Torgerson has indicated a willingness to accept the proposed $221,000 contract for police services in Monticello. Two officers would be transferred over the first year. The current city law enforcement budget is $335,000.  

The council discussed landfill rates, which do not currently meet costs. Wright reports the fee would need to double to break even. 

There is concern that charging too much will have adverse effects. Mayor Tim Young said, “If you raise it too much, people go throw it in the ditch or on the mountain.”

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