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One Salida is committed to providing ongoing information to the people of Salida to help enable informed citizen involvement in the government of the city and the community.
The initial priorities of the city council that was elected in 2017 were to restore the City’s control over the its budget, its city attorney, and the NRCDC-Vandaveer Ranch, then to rebuild the City’s administration and address the city’s challenges. To carry out our commitment, the facts surrounding the issues that face the City of Salida today are in the process of being presented below.
In our ongoing efforts to present current information in support of community engagement with city government, One Salida is posting a series of interviews with current council members responding to the following questions:
- What has gone well with the current council?
- What has this council accomplished?
- What are the “works in progress”?
- What are the “lessons learned” and the changes or improvements that resulted?
- What are the shortcomings? What could be done better? What are your hopes for the new council going forward?
Here are the Responses of the Current Council Members and Mayor.
Salida City Government
Salida’s institutions suffered a major setback in 2016 with the loss of its experienced city administrator and finance director, and with the hiring of an inexperienced city attorney that led Council to a number of ill advised actions. As a result, Salida’s image was damaged state-wide.
The dismissal of the administrator, later determined to have been without cause, and the denial of her contractual severance, later determined to be arbitrary and unjustified, had a major impact on the city’s ability to hire qualified department heads and staff going forward. Budget overruns featuring overspending on streets, delinquent audits following direction by an amateur audit committee, and expensive legal disputes, burdened the city’s government, while a senseless confession of imagined TABOR violations raised questions in the capitol and puzzled the other member cities of the Colorado Municipal League.
The 2016 actions added to years of confrontation and verbal personal attacks by citizens against officials resulting in staff turnover that included 15 administrators in the past 27years.
This set the starting point for the work of the new council that was elected in November, 2017.
One of the more important accomplishments of the current Salida city council was their attention to wishes of the voters who elected them to replace the personal attacks and uncivil dialog with civility in city government, starting with city council meetings. Reflective listening was initiated to insure that the citizen’s points were accurately received by council, and, where appropriate, citizens were allowed to speak where their input was important outside of the public comment portion of the meetings. The mayor has not yet used his gavel to silence anyone at a council meeting. No investigations of political enemies have been initiated under the present council.
Paralleling the city’s efforts, a citizen’s group called the Salida Civility Project was formed. The project has put forth eleven principles for promoting civil conversations in the community. (See Salida Civility Project.)
Salida City Attorney
The first step taken by the Salida City Council was the hiring of a new city attorney. It went to the opposite extreme of the previous council by retaining one of the most experienced municipal lawyers in the state. On December 11, 2017, Council hired Geoff Wilson, who had served as counsel to the Colorado Municipal League for 27 years. Since then his service was considered exemplary. Since his hiring, his charges have amounted to less than half of those of his predecessor. (See details.)
Salida’s Public Image
The hiring of a highly respected city attorney who was known throughout Colorado was a first signal that Salida might be serious about overcoming its reputation.
The decision by City Council to honor the severance claim of prior city administrator, Dara McDonald, to which there was no defense, was an essential prerequisite to attracting qualified applicants to apply for positions with the City of Salida. The hiring shortly thereafter of a finance director from Pueblo County is an example. (See AVV, 4/17/2019.)
– City Administrator
Drew Nelson, who was administrator for 10 years in Winter Park, Colorado, was hired by City Council at its council meeting of October 2, 2018. (See AVV, 10/3/18.) While there was little question of the superior qualifications of Drew Nelson over other applicants, there was controversy over whether an incident of January, 2018, in Winter Park in which he was involved was disqualifying. This caused a rift in the community with a mix of support for and anger about the hiring decision and process. Following a favorable performance review by the independent Employers Council, at the end of a six month probationary period, Council voted to retain Nelson at its council meeting of May 7, 2019. (See AVV, 5/8/2019.)
– City Finance Director
Aimee Tihonovich, who served as budget and finance director of Pueblo County for the past 19 years, was hired by City Council as Salida’s finance director. (See AVV, 4/17/2019.)
– City Staff
Years of service award amounts have been increased.
Salida’s financial documents are available on the City’s website.
– 2018 & 2019 Budgets
The unsustainable $2.5 million over-allocation for 2018, mainly for streets, and other items, were deferred to make the 2018 budget more fiscally sound and sustainable. The 2019 budget was adjusted accordingly. (See details.)
For the first four months of 2019, expenses for the City of Salida have been significantly under budget. (See treasurer’s report.) The budget surplus continued to grow in May and June. (See 5/2019 report and 6/2019 report.)
– City Audits
A looming audit fiasco was presented council when it was discovered that the material for the 2017 and 2018 audits was nowhere close to being ready. The prospect of non-compliance with state deadlines that would entail loss of grant eligibility and other consequences was likely. Skillful navigation by newly hired city administrator Drew Nelson averted the crisis. The audit for 2017 was completed and the work for the 2018 audit is on schedule.
NRCDC – Vandaveer Ranch
The NRCDC Board that saved the Vandaveer Ranch from a fire sale considered by the City in 2016 transferred the property debt free back to the City under an agreement with the current city government. The NRCDC sold only enough land to pay off the mortgage, leaving 100 acres, free and clear. The NRCDC then transferred the land and over $300,000 to the City, which, after election of a new council in 2017, it trusted to use for the benefit of Salida and its inhabitants. (See details.)
The emphasis of the City of Salida has been to encourage the area’s developers and realtors to help achieve the community’s goals that include providing affordable or workforce housing. Recognizing that (1) the free market will pursue the most economically efficient course, and can but will not necessarily serve the public’s interests, and (2) that government can shape the rules to serve the public, which can but will not necessarily make economic sense to the private sector whose cooperation is essential to success, the City has cautiously put forth several initiatives.
– Salida Crossings
The Salida Crossings project on Hwy. 50 was approved by the Planning Commission and modified and approved by Council in 2018. It uses higher density to make the inclusion of 30 deed-restricted affordable units economically feasible. A constructive negotiation between the developer, Duane Cozart, and all members of Council, including councilman Mike Bowers who opposed the project but constructively influenced the compromises, plus multiple opportunities for citizen input, helped achieve a workable 3-building mixed use plan. (See AVV history.) A referendum to block the project was defeated by the voters. (See special election.)
– Inclusionary Housing
The Salida City Council passed an Inclusionary Housing Ordinance at its October 2, 2018 council meeting that requires new annexations and certain other developments to provide a percentage of the residential units that are legally restricted to be permanently affordable. (See AVV 10/16/18.) The developments affected typically require negotiations anyway with the City, which typically seeks to secure an agreement to provide some affordable housing in exchange for permission to include features such as height and density allowances that are not permitted as a matter of right. The formula in the ordinance provides a greater sense of certainty along with incentives aimed at increasing the availability of affordable housing in the City. (See other AVV reports.)
– Tap Fee Reduction
At the May 21st council meeting, Salida approved a reduction in water and sewer tap fees for multi-family and deed restricted residential developments to encourage the construction of affordable housing, particularly rentals. (See AVV 5/24/19.) The City expanded on the impact of these fees in a press release. (See 6/5/19 press release.) For the ordinance and resolution, see Council Meeting Packet for 5/21/19 meeting, pages 53-56 and 59-61.)
– Accessory dwelling units
The City has put in place a process for encouraging the construction of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) for the purpose of expanding the availability of affordable rental units in residential areas while providing an opportunity for rental income for homeowners . (See ADU requirements.)
The severe limitation on parking in Salida’s downtown is one of the major concerns of downtown businesses. The need to increase convenient customer parking is an obvious concern, while limited employee parking, along with Salida’s workforce housing shortage, remains an obstacle to staffing downtown businesses. The business community and the city government are focusing on the problem (see AVV, 7/22/2019). Walker Consultants, one bidder of six bidders that has experience in mountain communities similar to Salida, was chosen by the city at its June 18, 2019 council meeting. (See 6/18/2019 meeting packet, at pp. 95-115.)
Union Pacific Lease Expansion
The City recently negotiated a lease expansion that more than doubled the parking area leased by the City from the Union Pacific Railroad, owner of the property north of the Arkansas River at the F Street bridge. The fast paced effort by the City and quick progress that arrived at a deal with the railroad was unusual given the historic slow pace in dealing with the railroad in the past. The new parking area is immediately south east of the original parking area (see site plan), and was constructed and open for use within weeks of the signing of the lease. The rent for the added parking area will be $44,317 per year for about 75 parking spots, which is about $50 per month per parking spot. Parking is free to the public, but no overnight parking is permitted.
Historic Preservation Commission
(See 6/18/2019 council meeting packet, pp. 20-28.)
Future 50 project
The City of Salida published the Future 50 Project Report on July 16, 2019 on the work of the future 50 project. The City has invited comments that can be submitted on the Future 50 website comment page. The project’s goal is to arrive at short and long term plans for the development of the corridor through U.S. highway 50 through the City of Salida with input from citizens and businesses along the highway, known as Rainbow Blvd.
Communications With Public
– communications director
– city website
The City of Salida website, cityofsalida.com, has been on-line for a number of years, but has its limitations. Efforts are underway by the City to expand the capacity of the website, make it more user friendly, and improve its function.
– Press releases
– Email Notices
The City has initiated a system for providing email notices of items of important to the public to which anyone interested can subscribe.
The amount of time spent by the present Salida City Council in executive sessions, which are meetings that are not public, has been 6 1/2 hours in the first 18 months with the current city attorney, less than 1/4 of the 28 hours spent by the previous council with the previous city attorney in the first 18 months of his tenure.
Public Records (CORA)
Last year, Salida processed in excess of 100 CORA requests that consumed substantial staff time and expense. The City found that its CORA policy at the time was cumbersome and badly in need of updating. In response, Salida City Council unanimously adopted Rules Governing Access to Public Records under the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA). The new rules are based on a model CORA policy developed by a group of CORA experts under the aegis of the Colorado Municipal League (CML). Salida’s current city attorney, Geoff Wilson, represented the CML for nearly three decades and is regarded as an authority on transparency and open government. (See AVV, 5/13/2018.) The new rules are intended to make CORA requests more productive and efficient for citizens, and less time consuming and costly for the City. Information regarding the CORA requests that have been filed and regarding the forms and procedures for requesting records can be found on the city website (See details.)