Craig City Finance Director Bruce Nelson talks Tuesday about taxing issues related to the negotiations between the city and Moffat County Commission regarding the Moffat County Public Safety Center at Craig City Hall. About 20 people attended the meeting to hear the city’s side of the discussion.

Photo by Brian Smith

Craig City Finance Director Bruce Nelson talks Tuesday about taxing issues related to the negotiations between the city and Moffat County Commission regarding the Moffat County Public Safety Center at Craig City Hall. About 20 people attended the meeting to hear the city’s side of the discussion.

Craig City Council talks safety center

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Craig City Council member Gene Bilodeau answers a question from the audience Tuesday about the negotiations between the city and Moffat County Commission regarding the Moffat County Public Safety Center at Craig City Hall. Bilodeau said the city and county will soon set aside old negotiations and start fresh on the issue.

Craig resident Andy Bullen attended a Craig City Council work session Tuesday for just the second time in the more than 30 years he has lived in the city.

The 66-year-old Bullen was one of about 20 residents that attended the meeting. He hoped to find answers to some serious questions he formed after reading about negotiations between the city and Moffat County Commission concerning the Moffat County Public Safety Center. It was a measure he voted in favor of more than 10 years ago.

“As I started looking into it, I’m smelling dead fish,” he said. “This meeting tonight really gives me a good idea of where that smell is coming from.”

After the hour-and-a-half meeting in which the city council shared their opinions about the negotiations, facts about the taxing situations behind the issue and listened to audience feedback, Bullen said he knew what he needed to do.

“It is now incumbent upon me to start talking to the county commissioners and ask them for the same sort of clarity of information that I got here from the city council,” he said.

The county commission was invited to the work session but declined on the grounds their presence would “be distracting to the conversation,” according to an e-mail.

Craig Mayor Don Jones started the work session by explaining there was a simple reason the city council wanted to hear resident feedback on the issue.

“Maybe we are barking up the wrong tree here,” he said. “I don’t think so. I think we are all in agreement with what we said, but there is a possibility we are all looking at it wrong.”

The city and county began discussing last year what the Craig Police Department should pay in rent at the safety center due to a lease set to expire in August.

The city has received free rent at the safety center for the last decade in exchange for providing the land the center was built on for free.

During initial discussions, the county commission presented possible future lease costs, however, talks shifted from an annual lease to a one-time purchase price.

The city council rejected the county’s purchase price of $1.083 million and said they could not afford more than $736,120 for the police department’s 2,258 square feet of exclusive office space and 3,000 square feet of shared space in the center.

City Manager Jim Ferree explained the results of the sales tax situation created to pay for the building and other capital projects as approved by voters a decade ago.

“We experienced a loss of revenue of approximately $128,000 a year,” he said. “So, we have already, through the transfer of sales taxes, have contributed about … $1.15 million to the county.”

City Finance Director Bruce Nelson asked the audience if they “really want to pay rent on something we already own?”

Ferree said the council feels original documents from the safety center’s creation point to the city only being responsible for the operating and utilities cost of the police department’s space.

Council member Jennifer Riley seconded the sentiment.

“I think that it is clearly stated in memorandum of understanding, in the sublease agreement that the rent will be based on actual cost, which is the division of utilities and a portion of maintenance,” she said. “I think that is fair and I don’t think that the city has ever proclaimed that we want to be there for free and we don’t want to have to pay.”

Council member Terry Carwile said he wants to “do the best thing for the tax payer.”

“Forgive me if $900,000 plus dollars for a purchase price is giving me a little heartburn,” he said of a recent offer by the commission to split the purchase price offers from each side. “Forgive me if I don’t want to jump to a decision. We have until August … to come to an agreement on this thing.”

Bilodeau said his goal is to have “common sense prevail.”

“We did talk as a council about a sales price, and again remember that not one member of the council thought we should be buying the place,” he said. “I think almost all of us had heartburn about renting the place.”

The range the council would initially offer for the police department’s space ranged from nothing to the offered $736,120, which was “the best we could do,” he said.

Bilodeau said the city and county will soon start from scratch on the negotiations and “will have something done by August.”

“Sale price is dead in the water,” he said. “Now, we go back and start fresh from, ‘OK, let’s sit down and talk about our occupancy and paying our fair share of the utilities and the operation. To me, we are starting over and that’s fine.”

Perhaps one of the most pressing questions from the audience was what Aug. 1 — the day when the current lease expires — would hold and what the council’s plan was if negotiations weren’t settled before then.

“Without having negotiations in the last six weeks, I can’t answer that,” Jones said. “What will happen Aug. 1? I guess if the (police) chief is still in there, then I guess we wait. You know, kind of like a renter — we wait for an eviction notice and go from there.”

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Comments

wellwell 3 years, 1 month ago

This public information meeting is what was needed. Information and documents came out to refresh memories and show the original intent.

It does appear that a sales tax was setup to fund the Safety Center, administrated by the county, and to pay for the building itself by 2015.

From the information and documents it appears that the county did not setup a separate account and comingled the money in general funds or foundation. Now the fund is short of the expected payment and short of the paid up date of 2015.

Some questions now need to answered to the taxpayers. Something "smells fishy." We've "opened a can of worms." Now it is time to "go fishing" for answers.

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John Kinkaid 3 years, 1 month ago

I attended the city council workshop meeting and asked a couple of questions. Now I would like to know the county's side of what has happened?

It appears that that the Moffat County Safety Center has been refinanced. Once in 2001 and again in 2006. From 1998 through 2010 taxpayers spent $9.6 million dollars. $10 million to build. $8 million in interest on the debt. $18.1 million total. Now with the refinancing, the Moffat County Safety Center will not be paid off until 2025 and we still owe $11.6 million. Has the county indeed been using sales taxes for other expenses instead of just for the Safety Center? I'm still trying to piece all of this together. Might be time for a county workshop. I still have questions.

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wellwell 3 years, 1 month ago

Well, I don't how this works, but couldn't we show up at the commissioner's meeting and ask questions? Is that still on Tuesdays at the courthouse in the morning?

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taxslave 3 years, 1 month ago

Regarding the two refinancing deals. First, why? Better interest rate?

Was equity cashed out and if so where did the cash go?

It's not that hard to trace 10 years. Also, since the taxpayer pays the salaries of the commissioners why not demand a county meeting in the evening every other week.

8 am doesn't work for the working class. It's apparent they know that too.

while we were sleeping the enemy planted tares

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Ray Cartwright 3 years, 1 month ago

For once I am in Agreeance with Taxslave. I have asked the question for Years. Why do they have the monthly Commissioners meeting on a Tuesday Morning. I do know that they have tried a couple of times to hold them in the evening and noone showed up so they thought that nobody cared. Now something comes up and I have to try to get time off from work to ask WTH.

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