by Eric Mullens
WALSENBURG — With just over half of the members present, the Walsenburg City Council met in utilities and finance committees here Monday night and discussed after action items related to the recent gas leak and the upcoming 2013 budget in a two and a half hour long session.
The city has less than 30 days to complete the budget process, which is due to the state by December 15, 2012. In that short time the city council and administration will have to find a way to cut the ‘upside down’ preliminary budget by an estimated $140,000. It is expected the police department will be among the hardest hit city departments with cuts aimed at overtime and training expenses.
Newly elected Ward II council member Cathy Pineda, Mayor Larry Patrick, and council members Erin Jerant (utilities committee chairperson), Silvana Lind and Nick Vigil attended the Monday night session. Absent were Mayor Pro Tem Craig Lessar and council members James Moore (finance committee chairperson), James Baca and Rick Jennings.
The city council is scheduled to meet in a budget workshop on Tuesday, November 27.
In addition to the upcoming budget, the committee members discussed the recent natural gas leak. Interim city administrator David Johnston said he would be asking the council to authorize a short term citizen committee that would review the city’s response to the emergency and to make recommendations on how to improve such action in the future. Johnston said the city spent an estimated $40,000 responding to the multi-day outage.
The committee, if approved by council, would be made up and chaired by citizens and would include at least one council representative and a member of the gas utility department. Johnston said some residents who have been outspoken in their criticism of the city’s response to the incident have been contacted to see if they would be interested in joining the committee if it is formed.
Johnston also briefed the council members on the bio-solids issue at the waste treatment plant. Saying 100,000 gallons of the material must be removed from the site soon.
Johnston also asked the city council members to consider a change in the process of negotiations between the city and business developers regarding city-to-business incentives. He said he would like to be able to meet with potential business developers and conduct incentive negotiations, then bring proposals to the council in executive session. City council cannot hold these type of negotiations in a closed door environment, but would be allowed to review proposals in executive session.
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