Basalt officials say they boosted transparency of budget during a tough 2019

This pie chart shows where Basalt town government has budgeted its general fund operating funds for 2020. The police department is the single largest expenditure at 31 percent.
Town of Basalt/courtesy image

A year ago while zeroing in on the 2018 budget, Basalt officials were reeling after discovering the town government had violated Colorado tax law numerous times for several previous years.

This year, fresh off of issuing more than $2 million in refunds for four years of property tax overcharges and getting voter approval to reestablish the mill levy, town officials contend their house is in order.

“We’ve done a tremendous amount in the last year with our finances,” Town Manager Ryan Mahoney said Tuesday.

His list included Basalt self-reporting violating the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights with the property tax overcharges, hiring a new auditor and achieving greater compliance with state requirements, adopting a five-year capital improvements plan, setting a strategic plan and enlisting experts among town residents to serve on the financial advisory board.

“It builds trust within the community, in my mind, that we’re bringing all these things to light and being vocal in the direction we’re going,” Mahoney said.

Voters showed their trust by approving the town’s proposed property tax mill levy in the November election. The approved amount of 5.957 mills was what town officials said they needed to maintain the level of services expected by residents. If the measure had failed, property taxes would have dropped to the level of the early 1990s.

The town’s assessed valuation increased by $22.28 million, or 13%, between 2018 and 2019, so the mill levy will raise more funds for next year’s budget even while staying at the same level.

The Basalt Town Council on Tuesday approved a general fund budget of $7.76 million. The general fund is the unrestricted funds used for operations that keep the town operating from day to day. That is an increase in expenditures of $347,045, or 4.7%, from last year’s budgeted amount. Town staff is projecting that 2019’s actual expenditures will come in at $7.03 million, less than what was budgeted.

Council members credited Mahoney and finance director Christy Hamrick for hard work to get the finances back on track.

The 2020 budget will increase for a few primary reasons — paying off a portion of the funds used for the property tax overcharges, purchasing new vehicles for the police department and replacing a dump truck for public works.

“We’re not adding staff,” Mahoney said. Employees will receive a 1% cost-of-living increase and will be eligible up to a total increase of 4% with merit raises.