by Edie Flanagin
WALSENBURG- All eight city council persons and Mayor Quintana fielded questions from a room full of concerned citizens last Wednesday at Spanish Peaks Library. The committee “Citizens for a Better Walsenburg” brought a list of issues for the council to address and the council answered other questions of concern from the crowd. The Mayor started the meeting by stating that any personnel questions would not be discussed in the open meeting, the council would take up personnel concerns in an executive session after the main meeting. The first question was from Paul Sedillo who asked about the city inspector and code enforcement. His concern was for the overgrown weeds, partially burned buildings, broken limbs and trash piles around the city. Several other citizens expressed their concern for these problems also. The short answer is that, unfortunately, the code enforcement officer works on code enforcement only 2-3 days a week. Citing properties and getting people to clean up can be a long and drawn out process. The city is doing what is possible within the limits of the law and limited personnel hours. Mayor Quintana said the city council is working up the guidelines for the voluntary addition of $3.33 to utility billing so that people can have the city pick up limbs twice a year. He hopes to get the guidelines ready soon.
Another question arose about the paving fund… is that money being used improperly for curbing, sidewalks, the improvement of the Safeway parking lot and for the turning lane for the new grocery store? Mayor Quintana explained that the paving fund money was being used for paving. Any money spent to help get businesses to move here is an incentive, a common practice of many cities. Mayor Pro-Tem James England stated that the new store will bring 40 jobs to town.
The waste water treatment plant and sewer fees were questioned next. Fred Eccher wondered if the businesses in the Northlands area of Walsenburg had to pay sewer fees like the rest of the city. Council person Jerant pointed out that the businesses in the Northlands are not connected to the sewer system yet, therefore, they are not charged a sewer fee. Eccher also wanted to know if the city really needed a new waste water treatment plant since the prison is vacant and the amount of sewage is greatly reduced. Several council members answered that question in unison: The state is mandating the plant be constructed, regardless of the closure of the prison.
The specific issues of the Citizens for a Better Walsenburg were then addressed with issue number one causing the most discussion. The gist of the issue is basically: what powers do the council have and will the council begin demanding the administration have accountability? Mayor Quintana answered that yes, the Council does have “legislative” power, their role is to set policy, not micromanage the business of the city. He further stated that each problem faced by the city has to be handled in its own time, and he assured the crowd that the time for action is now. Specific questions about the state of the finances raised some ire in both the citizens and the council. No one is happy with the way the reports and budget is presented; it is too difficult to understand and too lengthy. The council has asked the new auditors to review past budgets as well as the current budget to see if everything is in compliance with standard practices.
The job posting for an IT position at the city was a contentious issue. Currently the city contracts out IT work to Mike Sheldon. Two members of the crowd, both of whom have computer businesses in Walsenburg, stated they believe the number of hours and the rates Sheldon charges is too much for the job he does. Several council members said they were unhappy with the way the IT position is being advertised and might redo the ad.
The other issues brought up included such things as lack of access to city records, the length of time it takes to get a business license issued, how secondary “on call” duties should be compensated, the use of two phone systems at the city, and aging infrastructure plans. Each of these topics are of concern to the council and many of these issues can be readily fixed.
The town hall meeting ended at 8 pm. After a brief recess, the council then met in executive session to discuss in detail some of the issues brought out at the meeting with the city attorney. When the council emerged from the executive session, into regular session, Craig Lesser moved to dismiss the contract IT labor of Mike Sheldon. The vote failed on a 4-5 decision. The council adjourned at 10:30 pm. The next regular council meeting is Tuesday, June 15 at 6 pm.