by Bill Knowles
WALSENBURG- On a 9-0 vote, the Walsenburg City Council accepted the draft audit for 2010. The audit shows the city has improved in its financial condition since the 2009 audit.
The city had nearly $22 million in assets at the end of 2010. It also posted $12.2 million in liabilities in the same time frame showing a net asset gain of about $9.7 million for 2010.
Putting to rest the controversy over a $2 million shortfall, the auditors and City Finance Director Dave Johnston located the missing funds. They cited problems in the accounting software as well as inexperience in using the software as two factors along with errors in data entry. The missing $2 million was found in several funds.
The problem loomed large for the city’s treasurer and the mayor in December 2010, prompting them to hold a meeting with then Interim City Administrator Don Saling and Johnston. However by the end of August, Saling had resigned his position over alleged name calling by the mayor stemming from a discussion of the missing funds. The current audit shows the funds were in the city’s bank accounts, and patience on the part of elected city officials would have allowed Saling to ride out the necessary audit.
Grant funding for necessary work to the Depot building to replace the roof and the HVAC system were on hold until the city was able to provide a close out document to the Colorado Department of Transportation for work at the Water Park.
Priscilla “Pete” Fraser from the Council of Governments explained that the grants needed for the Depot repair have been awarded but are awaiting the close out document.
Mayor Bruce Quintana wanted to know where the “ball had been dropped” in getting the documents to CDOT. Fraser suggested that the city council pay attention to what is happening now. “All of the problem is due to turnover. We have received unspecified documents from Eric Pearson, Alan Hein and Don Saling. CDOT has also experienced turnover as well. With that kind of turnover in administration, documents will get missed. We have to pay attention to what is happening now,”said Fraser.
The time frame for getting the depot grant is on the fast track according to Fraser. “But grants almost get missed because of turnover.”
Acting city administrator Beth Neece faxed the document on Tuesday Oct. 5, allowing the Council of Governments (COG) and CDOT to determine the awarding of the next string of grants for projects the city has scheduled over the next several years. The faxed letter will also provide a go-ahead on funding for the Northlands sewer project if the property owners vote to approve to increase the debt limit for the sewer project. The measure is on the November ballot.
A week ago last Friday two trees along Main Street, north of Seventh Street were cut down and one other was damaged by Richard McEntee and some of his crew before police stopped him, and the city took time during their regular meeting last Tuesday to discuss options.
However before anything can be decided, the city has to determine who has ownership of the trees. As the issue stands, the trees sit along a highway controlled by CDOT but they are maintained by the city with funds generated by the Walsenburg Downtown Revitalization Committee. “Ownership of the trees has to be nailed down before anything can be done,” Dan Hyatt the city’s attorney said.
The two trees that were cut down and the one that was damaged were all about 28 to 29 years old. Some downtown business owners have complained that the trees are overgrown and block the storefronts. Others are opposed to the removal of trees, citing the economic and aesthetic benefits to the shopping district and to tourists and the community as a whole. They contend that correct pruning and care of the trees would take care of sign visibility concerns.
A group of private citizens led by McEntee has prepared a petition for the city council asking the council to consider removing the trees and replacing them with new trees. The petition also calls for the old sidewalks, that have been damaged by the trees, to be replaced with a red colored cement sidewalk in an effort to make the downtown area more attractive to out of town shoppers.
It was pointed out to council that if a teenager had chainsawed down the trees, as opposed to a millionaire, that kid would be cooling his heels in jail right now.
It was also brought up that mature trees can range in price of $1,000 to $10,000, so McEntee is responsible for destroying $2,000 to $20,000 in property. It was also mentioned by several people that the pines McEntee proposes to put in have a shallow root system, and are likely to die without diligent maintenence and care.