Meeker board holds final hearing for 2017 budget

MEEKER | Meeker trustees held their final hearing for the 2017 budget Tuesday and established the importance of two priority projects for the coming year: the water system upgrade project and moving forward with the development of the Outdoor Adventure Center.
The complete proposed 2017 budget is available for review online at bit.ly/2fvXscd. The board will approve the budget at its Dec. 13 meeting
The town has budgeted $2 million for the water upgrade project, which will include necessary improvements to the electrical system, the SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) program, and adding two additional wells to the town’s system. The town will apply for $1 million in grant funding from the Department of Local Affairs to offset the cost.
“This is a top priority,” said Mayor Regas Halandras, expressing the importance of protecting the town’s water supply.
The budget also includes $2.5 million designated toward the development of the Outdoor Adventure Center. That amount may or may not be spent, however, depending on the success of the Better City consultants in securing private investor funds for the project. According to Town Manager Scott Meszaros, having the money in the budget provides proof to private benefactors that there is public support of the project available.
Trustee Travis Day said, “In the long run, even if we do end up spending that $2.5 million, we would eventually get that paid back (with the TIF). We have the potential to make every dime of that back.”
Meszaros agreed. “It gives us the ability to be flexible. It’s in our checkbook but we haven’t written any checks. If we don’t put it in there (in the budget) we don’t have the ability to use it.”
“We don’t want to spend any more in public funding than absolutely necessary. Everyone is working toward as much private or all private investment,” Halandras said.
He also pointed out that if the town uses its own downtown property for the center, it would save money, and in his remarks at the end of the meeting said, “If we don’t move forward as a town we’re going to continue to move backwards.”
The petition process for establishing an Urban Renewal Authority, an essential part of the development plan, has been completed.
“The URA is being driven at this point for this project (the center), but a URA should have been developed a long time ago,” he said.
The establishment of the URA will allow for the creation of tax increment funding TIF zones, which will eventually pay back any public monies spent on projects in the zones.
Downtown business owner Pat Daggett addressed the board with questions about the center she feels have not been clearly answered yet, such as who decided to focus on the center instead of the other projects initially mentioned; why focus on a tourism-dependent project as opposed to something more stable; and what kind of success has Better City had with their other projects?
The mayor and two trustees who were on the board when the proposal came before them responded. Halandras said the center “kind of touched a button we all felt good about,” in comparison to the other options presented. Trustee Scott Creecy said he talked to a number of people who told him the other ideas weren’t really feasible, and trustee Rodney Gerloff said the idea “fit with what we do in the community anyway, unlike other things we’ve tried over the years like the spa manufacturer or the tool manufacturer. This seemed more all-encompassing, like where the community is already at as far as recreation.”
Daggett said she was concerned about the rumors and conflicting information that seem to be going around town. “It doesn’t feel like things have been really open. It is a little hard to dig through an 88-page document.”
Halandras pointed out that the document Daggett referenced is still in draft form and still evolving. Meszaros concurred. “We don’t have all the details yet. Nothing is concrete.”
“This isn’t Better City’s plan, this is Meeker’s plan and Rio Blanco County’s plan. It’s our mission to get as much private funding as possible.”