Avon council gets first look at 2012 budget | VailDaily.com

Avon council gets first look at 2012 budget

AVON, Colorado – The Avon Town Council took its first deep look at next year’s budget Tuesday. There’s still work to do, but the good news is that the town’s financial picture seems to have stabilized.

This will be the first budget that council member Chris Evans votes on. He said he was impressed by a couple of things from Tuesday’s presentation.

“I was impressed by how good a financial position the town is in regarding debt,” Evans said. The town has the ability to borrow nearly $60 million, but is making payments on about 10 percent of that amount. Payments on the current debt make up less than 8 percent of the town’s budget.

“But we still have to be very careful,” Evans said. “Just because we can borrow money doesn’t mean we should – and voters would have to approve anyway.”

Evans said he was also pleased to see a gradual increase in sales and lodging taxes. Again, though, Evans said the town has to be very careful in spending, especially given the precarious state of the national and international economies.

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Council member Amy Phillips is well into her second term on the board, so she’s seen budgets from good times and bad. She said this year’s budget will be easier to finalize than the past couple of years.

“We made $4 million in cuts the last three years,” Phillips said. “But we’re starting to see things improve.”

Those cuts over the last few years have included a number of jobs, with town staff dropping from about 110 people in 2007 to about 85 today. And there’s no guarantee there won’t be more cuts.

Phillips said town employees have already taken about 10 percent cuts in pay and benefits, and would like to see some of that money given back soon, even if it comes at the expense of vacant positions that aren’t filled.

“I don’t think we’ll have to cut much more,” Phillips said. “We’ve had the drop in property taxes, but the sales and accommodations taxes are coming up – not enough to balance the drop, but it’s encouraging.”

The bottom line is that Town Council members will still have to make some tough calls about spending priorities. Evans and Phillips both said they’d like to see the town increase spending on event promotion. But that money will have to come at the expense of something else.

And both Phillips and Evans said the town’s transportation funding will be cut even more if voters don’t pass a proposed tax increase dedicated to bus service.

“Since I’ve been on council I’ve learned how important transit is,” Evans said.

While locals count on the service, Evans said having a good transit system is also important for guests, and can affect their decision whether or not to return.

“It would be a huge help if voters approved the transit tax this fall,” he said.

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.

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