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Cortez City Council approves budget cuts

Golf course remains closed
The Cortez City Council unanimously approved about $700,000 in cuts Tuesday to deal with lost tax revenue from the economic slowdown caused measures taken to slow the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Cortez City Council unanimously approved temporary expenditure cuts April 14 to help offset projected revenue losses incurred by the coronavirus outbreak.

While the economic impact of the outbreak remains uncertain, City Manager John Dougherty said staff is preparing for a worst-case scenario of a $3.2 million revenue loss. The cuts would save $700,000, Dougherty said.

“What I do know for sure is that the earlier we start to make cuts, the less pain we will feel when we come out of this mess,” Dougherty wrote in a staff report.

The council voted 5-0, with Councilor Gary Noyes absent. It was the outgoing council’s last meeting together, and its first electronic meeting via Zoom.

Dougherty brought up budget cuts at a special meeting March 18, the last time councilors and city staff met in person. But councilors asked that specific proposals be brought back for review.

Dougherty said he had asked for several scenarios for if the city were to lose 10% to 25% of its revenue.

“I don’t anticipate at this point that it will be a very robust tourist season so room tax will be down significantly from the past, as will restaurant and sales tax,” Dougherty wrote.

He and Finance Director Ben Burkett decided to plan for a projected $3.2 million revenue loss as a worst-case scenario.

This time, cuts include a salary freeze as of April 1, a hiring freeze except for a few key positions in the police department and library, across-the-board travel and training cuts, equipment cuts in the central services department, and vehicle repair and maintenance cuts.

“In talking with this council and some of the new people, there wasn’t a lot of taste for laying people off,” Dougherty said at the April 14 meeting. “So we won’t be going there, until we get to that $1.5 million marker or worse.”

At the virtual meeting, Burkett noted the city has $9 million in cash, but the city doesn’t know which funds the money belongs to, since audits are incomplete.

“If we had no revenues coming in for the city, and we had to cover every expense that we needed to cover, that would last us about 3¼ months, just to give you an idea,” Burkett said. “We do have revenues still coming in.”

The pandemic’s impact on revenues is unclear, since it didn’t hit Cortez until March, and sales tax data for March won’t be known until after April 20, according to Burkett. But the closures of the Cortez Recreation Center and Conquistador Golf Course have contributed to a loss, he said.

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The council voted 4-1 to keep Conquistador closed. Golfers complained that social-distancing requirements could still be met on the course.

“I am sympathetic,” Dougherty said. “But I have a problem with having a municipal golf course open when the governor’s executive order was to stay home.”

Councilor Ty Keel, who sits on the Golf Advisory Board, argued that residents face a higher risk at retail shops. He cast the lone vote against the closure.

“We’ve been getting mixed messages from the state for a long time, isolate but go get exercise,” Keel said. “Well, golf’s a fairly good exercise for people. The capacity to distance oneself golfing is far greater than distancing oneself in a retail outlet.”

Sam Jarvis, also on the golf board, called in to ask that the course be reopened with precautions, like Dalton Ranch in Durango.

“The golf course, for lack of a better term, is just a huge, big park,” he said. “Everybody is an individual out there, we play with our own equipment, we don’t touch other equipment.”

But other councilors felt that the city should err on the side of caution.

“I really would like to have the golfers out there playing, but I certainly don’t want a bunch of fatalities or injuries or sicknesses from the virus,” said Councilor Mike Lavey.

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