The city of Cortez is considering upgrading the audiovisual system for council chambers, although the project’s price tag is raising questions about its necessity.
The City Council discussed the proposed upgrade with staff at Tuesday night’s regular meeting. The discussion came as staff looked to clarify language to be used in a future ordinance, said Kelly Koskie, the city’s finance director. No decision was reached.
The audiovisual upgrade is one of four capital improvement projects and expenditures Cortez looks to tackle using surplus funds from this year’s budget, as part of the city’s midyear adjustment.
It’s a necessary upgrade, said City Manager Drew Sanders and IT director Shay Allred, who highlighted the aging infrastructure of the current AV system and the rising cost of equipment. Still, the nearly $217,000 cost caused some councilors and one member of the public to hesitate.
“Who knows what could happen,” said councilor Matthew Keefauver, expressing concerns about spending the surplus. “At any point there could be some sort of emergency, that we absolutely need funding to address that emergency.”
Ultimately, the council asked staff to separate the AV upgrade from the other items to pass the midyear adjustment without issue.
According to Koskie, when the 2022 budget was passed, the city’s general fund had a surplus of nearly $3.32 million because of increased revenues and decreased expenses over the 2021 budget. The increased revenues were largely attributed to sales and marijuana taxes, and the decrease in expenditures, to budget-tightening efforts, Sanders told The Journal.
The city listed five items on the budget adjustment. The first four expenditures were assigned mainly to surplus dollars.
The five items are:
- $135,000 for the Montezuma County Community Intervention Program.
- $79,745 for the new city attorney and new administrative assistant, a half-year salary and benefits for the two positions.
- $105,299 for the purchase of the lot at 1002 E. Empire St., for the purpose of intersection improvement, according to the agenda packet from April 26.
- $216,899 for new audiovideo equipment in the council chambers.
- $150,000 for the improvement of County Road F to the Cortez Municipal Airport.
The first three items were approved by City Council earlier this year, to be funded through general fund dollars. If approved, the new AV system would come from the general fund, and the County Road F improvements would be paid from funds provided in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.
ARPA funds are separate from general fund dollars, but were included in the midyear budget adjustment to maintain public transparency, Sanders said.
Sanders said the failure of the current audiovisual system was “imminent.” Allred added that the system was 14 or 15 years old, and industry standards suggest that after seven years, the system should be sold back to the vendor and the technology upgraded.
Sanders said the upgrade would include translation capabilities – complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act – and prices would increase if the order were deferred another year.
“We do need the equipment, we do need to make some changes, and it’s just up to us to decide whether or not now is the time to do that,” Sanders said.
AVI-SPL, based in Tampa, Florida, was selected as the vendor for the project. According to Allred, the request for proposals stipulated that vendors must take part in an on-site walk-through to be considered for the bid, and only two showed up. Of those two, AVI-SPL won the bid process.
Councilors voiced mixed opinions.
“For me, I think accessibility is really important,” said Mayor Rachel Medina. “And so I would like to see this on there. If it means that we can have hybrid meetings, it means that we’re more ADA compliant, and if there’s better records of our meetings, it’s easier to participate and go back to our meetings, and also just easier for the council to navigate.”
Medina added that she understood the cost concerns, however.
Councilor David Rainey expressed the importance of preempting a more serious – and expensive – issue in the future.
“If we don’t do something about this in a relatively short period of time, it’s like kicking the can down the road, or like running out of gas in the middle of the desert,” Rainey said.
Keefauver spoke of the need to evaluate how many people would be affected by the upgrade. The CIP program and work on County Road F made sense to him as expenditures that would benefit the public as a whole, he said, but the AV system was less far-reaching.
“When you think about the impact that this will have, we do need to think about the total number of people that it’s going to impact citywide, versus us and maybe a few people that tend to watch online,” he said.
During the public comments portion of the meeting, Lisa Passell questioned the decision to purchase AV equipment while cutting back on other expenditures.
“But even above the number of citizens who will benefit is the underlying question: are we watching expenses or not?” Passell said.