Red Cliff set for new debt deal
Ryan Summerlin December 9, 2012
RED CLIFF, Colorado – In Vail, saving $15,000 per year might get an employee a “good job” from a supervisor. In Red Cliff, saving that much money is a big, big deal.The Red Cliff Town Board will take some time at its meeting Monday to finish work on a couple of resolutions that will save the town money and actually pay down interest and principal on federal loans, one of which dates back to the 1970s. The deal has been in the works in one form or another for nearly a decade.Board member Chris Keran said this attempt had some help from both the Colorado Department of Local Affairs and Sen. Michael Bennet’s office.Red Cliff Mayor Scott Burgess said the town was paying about $3,000 per month on the loans.”That wasn’t even covering all the interest,” Burgess said.The town’s new monthly payment will be about $1,700. In a town with an annual budget on the coupon-clipping side of $500,000, that’s significant.”We’re still scrambling to find money for maintenance,” Keran said. “But this will help.”The refinancing deal is just part of the debt the town is wrestling with. The town this year arranged a payment plan with the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District to cover the costs of thawing the town’s water lines early this year. Those lines froze because the town depends on snow cover to keep water flowing in the winter. The entire town is built on bedrock, which makes burying lines deep enough prohibitively expensive.That means the town has had to look for unconventional solutions to many of its problems. The town will use the temporary line-warmers brought in last winter if the snow stays light this season. And Burgess is only half joking when he talks about “putting a mirror on a tree” to bounce cellphone signals from Vail’s Back Bowls into town. That sort of improvised solution makes sense in a town where a resident volunteers to drive his antique snowcat up the Shrine Pass road to groom snowmobile trails.But snowmobile traffic is important to Red Cliff. It brings people to eat and drink at Mango’s, one of the few sales tax-generating businesses in town. Sales tax is municipal lifeblood in Colorado, and Red Cliff has very little. That’s why Burgess and other board members are always on the lookout for new ways to draw visitors to town.Burgess said officials are looking at some town-owned property just outside town for use as a campground. “The company we have running the water system now knows how to do that, Burgess said. A campground could bring a few people in off the highway. More important, it could make the town attractive for concerts and other events.Town resident Jim Lamont said he hasn’t been paying much attention to the current board, five members of which were elected in April of this year. Lamont and the previous board had a long-running dispute, so Lamont said he’s mostly withdrawn from paying attention to the board’s actions.Still, he sees the potential of promise in some of the current board’s actions.”If the (money saved) goes into capital projects and other infrastructure, I’d say they’re making a wise choice,” Lamont said.Burgess said bringing people to town is important and said the town needs to be able to accommodate visitors. That’s one way to grow the town economically, if only a bit. But Burgess is thinking big. Why can’t Red Cliff be like Ouray, which relies largely on ice climbing and mountain charm for its economic base?”We’re working on our town,” Burgess said. “It’s what we have to do.”Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.