Mid-way through 2014, the town is continuing to distance ourselves from the Great Recession. While we must guard against too much confidence, it is difficult to ignore the changes that are taking place. January and February were the biggest January and Februarys on record in sales tax revenue. March exceeded all previous months in sales tax revenue. April was one of the largest Aprils ever and May was the largest May ever. This is built upon 2013 which was the largest year in sales tax revenue. Our sales tax revenue, as of this State of the Town‘s writing, is up 13.7 percent.We are also seeing substantial growth in Real Estate Transfer Tax. Our largest year ever was in 2006 where we received slightly more than $5.3 million in RETT. Revenues are a little higher after six months, than that banner year. While we fully understand the volatility of this revenue category, we are as of June, 107 percent ahead of last year and have already exceeded 75 percent of this year’s budget. There are a variety of reasons we can point to for these positive numbers. Our marketing program by the Telluride Tourism Board is a major reason. We are reaching more consumers who are interested in sharing the Telluride experience. Your town government is focused on providing the services necessary for, not only our locals but also for our guests, to enjoy. We have made Telluride into a community that is responsive to all who live and visit here. Our name is synonymous with: scenic beauty, historic significance, arts and culture, environmental stewardship, great restaurants, unique retail, lodging and a welcoming citizenry. We are a highly desirable destination. With all of these positive numbers, this council is still pursuing extremely conservative goals. We are setting funds aside to increase our reserves, we have raised our net assets, lowered our liabilities and provided clearer and more understandable financials.
Conde Nast has honored us, for a second year in a row, as the Best Ski Resort in the nation. We have received designations as one of the: Best Small Towns in America, Best Christmas Lights and Family Friendly Hotels, Best American City for Foodies, Best Ski Town for families to wander around in with kids and at least a dozen more awards.
Highlights from the first six months of 2014.
Water/Wastewater: We have had steady progress on Pandora, with scheduled completion in the fourth quarter of this year. At the same time, upgrades to Mill Creek are proving effective, as we are treating water entirely through a newly installed membrane system. Lots of maintenance and preparation to the Waste Water Treatment Plant Lift Station allowed for smooth operations during Bluegrass this year, with both overall water consumption and wastewater treatment being moderate, compared to 2013. Much effort was taken by the Town toward public outreach and awareness of our utility constraints and this truly helped keep the numbers in check. We are thankful to the community and to our many guests for responding.
Capital Projects: In addition to Pandora, which remains the biggest undertaking of the Town, we are pursuing the completion of these projects: The Public Works Facility; a rebuild of the Town Park Restrooms and Swimming Pool; replacement of the Main Water Line in Main Street between Aspen and Davis (the Town secured a $500,000 grant with the Department of Local Affairs) which will allow us to complete this project; a $200,000 resurfacing of the bike path along the Spur and completion of the Town Park Core Area.
Council Goals and Objectives: There are efforts underway toward enhanced, way-finding signage. The Town has provided financial assistance to the startup of the Telluride Arts District and will consider continued funding in the 2015 Budget. We are currently doing the necessary background research to install one or two water filling stations within the Town. Council is giving careful review of potential new events slated for 2015 (Fire Festival and Car Festival). We continue to meet with the Telluride Science Research Center toward negotiations involving a future campus in Telluride. Holiday lighting was a huge success and will likely be enhanced in 2015. Efforts are underway to identify future affordable housing projects and sites. We continue to be involved in the planning efforts for Four Corners, insofar as it concerns the Town parcel, which is being slated for subterranean parking and yet to be determined above ground uses. The Town is currently considering processes to enhance our land use review processes, notably pertaining to increased notices for work sessions and bolstered review for demolition or relocation of non-designated structures. We continue to partake in discussions related to regional transit with focus upon future funding for the gondola and inter-jurisdictional transit service. We are currently pursuing measures leading to our negotiated cable franchise renewal, with an eye toward enhancement of our local access channel (Telluride TV).
Energy Mitigation: Having established a new fund in the 2014 Budget which is dedicated toward energy mitigation, the Town continues to pursue notable projects in this effort. We received approval of the hydro turbine for the Pandora project, subject to the new FERC streamlined approval process. We purchased additional solar panels within the SMPA Solar Farm to offset energy related to many of our affordable housing units in Town and we recently purchased Renewable Energy Credits, through the Tri-County Hydro Project at Ridgway Reservoir.
Organizational Development: We continue to see increased efficiencies and lower labor costs within our organization. The 2014 Budget revealed very competitive labor costs within our General Fund (slightly over 50 percent) and much lower costs within our Enterprise Funds (30-35%). We reinstated the position of in-house engineer and successfully filled that position this year, along with a new lab tech position to help run the increased utility operations once Pandora comes on line. Staffing needs in the near future will likely focus upon law enforcement, which continues to function at less than full staffing capacity, amidst increased demands for services. The organization as a whole is functioning quite well. New leadership has been selected for four department head positions in recent years, as we are seeing many long-tenured employees retire. The transition is working well.
Staff: Our Staff is responsible for carrying out the goals and objectives set by your Town Council. We are not shy in creating aggressive goals for the upcoming years. Our Town Attorney and Town Manager, along with the Municipal Judge, report directly to Town Council. The council’s personnel function is limited to those three individuals. The Manager and the Attorney are the conduit through which council directs its action. We are indeed fortunate that those two critical positions are filled by the very best individuals we could find. Greg Clifton and Kevin Geiger are simply outstanding. They have created a team-building atmosphere that is unparalleled.
Economy: As stated earlier, we are doing well with revenues. We have a closer relationship with the merchants, lodging and restaurants than we have had before. Working as a team is paying off for everyone. Some merchants feel that street closures are not assisting them in their business goals, while others embrace the closures. We are making efforts to carefully review new or changed closures and in 2014 there will be fewer than in 2013. It is also noted that street closures, that are tied to major events, are important to the overall summer economy. Without our special events, our summer economy would clearly suffer. That said, efforts will focus upon bringing increased vitality to the east end of Main Street, which appears to be the real issue underlying the street closure discussion.
Arts/Festivals/Special Events/Awards: In January’s State of the Town address, we had already discussed how our summer festival season had accelerated. Halfway through 2014, it appears it may be even stronger. Film Festival sold out in 2013 and the premieres at Telluride created a stir in the film industry. The Werner Herzog Theatre was an astounding success … another example of a solid public/private partnership. We are grateful to the Telluride Film Festival for their involvement with this great project and with the continued operation of the Nugget Theatre. By the way the Film Festival just installed all new seats in the Nugget. This was a wonderful amenity to the Film Festival, but also to all of us who watch movies year-round at the Nugget. In addition, the 2014 Film Festival sold out in mid-June. This is yet another indicator of a strong summer season.
Blues and Brews had some pretty tough weather conditions last year, but they also had extremely positive reviews on their program. The Ride Festival was stronger than its first year and promises to be even better in 2014. Bluegrass 2014 sold out of 4,000 passes in 8 minutes. The collaboration between smaller but still very important festivals is continuing to grow. Our summer calendar is full. With respect to the arts, our position as a Colorado Creative District has morphed into the Telluride Arts District. We are focusing our efforts in 2014 on working towards building this economic engine and in the process attempting to make Telluride a place where artists can live, work and flourish.
Legal Activity: During the last few months, the Legal Department has been involved in both ongoing projects, as well as bringing finality to several important legal issues. Kevin provided us with an ordinance related to the ban of hash oil production. We are possibly the first jurisdiction in Colorado to do this. We are in the process of securing a US Forest Service special use permit which will allow us to continue to operate our Mill Creek Water Treatment Plant. In the Environmental area-legal documents were prepared for the solar panel purchase for 20% of our population that lives in deed restricted rental and owner occupied housing. Contracts were also prepared for our purchase of RECS from the Ridgway Hydropower project.
Under the category of ongoing legal involvement, Kevin and Cindy have been involved in the Regional Transportation Authority, Telluride Science Research Center, Four Corners, Lawson Hill Home Owners Association, Pandora Water Treatment Plant and most recently Tom Chapman and Bear Creek.
Personal Comment: This past May, I missed my first council meeting in seven years. This is not a self-serving comment. It is to let you know that our council and it’s responsibility to this community is paramount to the success of our goals and objectives. We don’t always agree, but we hopefully understand that our constituency exists beyond those who voted for us, but includes all 2,400+ people who live here and the tens of thousands of guests who visit here. The attendance and attention to detail that this council displays, is a reflection of our support of this community.
As the days on my term in office lessen, I realize the importance of my responsibility to all of you, to our staff and to all of our futures. I am but one of seven sitting up here. My belief is that our goals are a positive reflection of each individual within the town of Telluride. Some may feel we strive too much, but I have been here through the Great Recession and realize what we couldn’t do, during that period. I take it as a personal responsibility to task ourselves to achieve more during the good times, because of our inability to accomplish what we needed to do, during the difficult times. The glass is never half empty in my eyes, it is a glass that constantly needs to be filled, so that we will never again be thirsty. Thank you for allowing me to be your mayor…you have made my life more full than I could have ever imagined.