Aluise Speaks Out on False Rumors and Ballot Issues

These days the closest I get to a bar is Silt Discount Liquor (1818 Medicine Bow Ct). It’s always fun to stop in and visit with Owner Rick Aluise. He’s a local celebrity. If he’s not too busy he’s always more than willing to talk politics, town stuff, or answer questions. Plus he has a beer cave in his store. Mm-mm … beer. He knows just about everything there is to know about everything. And he usually has a great story to go with it. “Well I remember one time,” he likes to say, then off he goes.

Rick is also Silt’s Mayor Pro-Tem. He was elected to the Board of Trustees on April 6, 2010, garnering the most votes of all the candidates, including the mayoral race. It was his leadership and ideas that organized the Save Our Silt slate of candidates and their publicly supported platform to balance the town budget. The three new trustees, Rick Aluise, Paul Taylor, and Bryan Fleming swept into office and cleaned house. With the help of Mayor Dave Moore, who was re-elected on the SOS platform, they voted to eliminate the community development director position held by Gale Carmoney and terminate the contracts for Town Administrator Betsy Suerth and Town Attorney Gene Duran, as well as other staff reductions. Their actions stunned many people. They endured somewhat of an initiation by fire as rumors and controversy surrounded the three new trustees and the Mayor for several weeks. Gradually the furor faded into summer’s pink sunset and business-as-usual returned.

I was watching the Board meetings on the livestream but I heard the machine broke. So I haven’t seen a meeting since June. I wondered how things are going these days. Instead of bothering Rick down at the store, I asked him for an email interview. Of course he said, “Yes.”

Here is my conversation with Mayor Pro-Tem Rick Aluise.

FTS:  More than five months have passed since the election and the big shake-up with the Town Board and Staff. Emotions were high back then. How are things going now?

ALUISE: Things have been much more calm. We have settled into dealing with questions and concerns that are the usual items boards regularly consider, such as cost recovery agreements, Planning and Zoning appointments, and other basic issues.

FTS:  We still hear grumblings now and then about the rumor that Davis Farrar (Interim Town Administrator) charged the town $300/hour and how that’s supposedly breaking the budget. Could you please put that rumor to rest once and for all?

ALUISE: Well, I would grumble too if Davis Farrar made $300 per hour! He doesn’t. With departmental costs, we were spending approximately $9500 per month for our former administrator. That included wages, benefits, retirement and departmental costs. Davis has yet to exceed that amount in a given month. He averages about 20 hours per week at $100 per hour. Since we have now hired a new administrator, Steve Stamey, who began on September 1, it is a moot point anyway. Steve actually makes slightly less than our former administrator.

Another similar grumbling I heard in the past regarded the cost of the contract attorney.  Our former attorney had a budget of very nearly $115,000 per year, which is again over $9500 per month including wages, benefits, retirement and departmental costs. Every penny of this amount applied solely to our General Fund. We are averaging far less than $9500 per month with our new attorney.

Additionally, we paid another attorney from Grand Junction $315 per hour from our Water Fund to handle water issues.

FTS:  I’m glad you brought up the town attorney issue. The Board recently hired Lee Leavenworth as our Town Attorney. From the sounds of his credentials, Silt is fortunate to have access to his vast legal expertise.

ALUISE: Yes. We now have Lee Leavenworth as our Town Attorney on a contract basis.  For those who don’t know Lee, he helped many of the municipal attorneys in Garfield County gain experience in municipal law in his firm. It was not lost on other board members and me that some of the attorneys we considered for our contract position gained much of their experience in Lee’s law firm. Lee was also the President of the Colorado Municipal League, he has extensive land use and economic development experience, and he is an excellent water attorney. Lee structured the Wal-Mart deal in Rifle. While we will not get a Wal-Mart, his experience will help us as we try to establish an economic development strategy. For Silt to have someone of his caliber is incredible for the town.

FTS: So let’s talk about that icky old budget. You ran on the budget issue. Your goal is to balance the budget. The Board has had several special budget meetings. Do you feel the Board is making progress with the budget?

ALUISE: We really have only had a couple of budget meetings. The last was well-planned by Davis to help us gain a consensus on our general theories for the future budget. Since we are now heading into our budget discussions for 2011, we seem to have a general consensus to focus our budget issues on the upcoming year.

We have absolutely made progress on the budget. We have already reduced our monthly legal and planning expenses. The town budgeted over $130,000 for our planning department for 2010, not including the building department. This included wages, benefits, retirement and general departmental costs for the two positions we unfortunately eliminated due to lack of work. In addition, we reduced another position to half time, an annual cost of about $24,000 with wages and payroll taxes. We also had a police position that was vacated about the time we took office. We chose not to replace the position at this time. With wages, benefits, etc., the annual savings, should we continue not to fill the position, would be about $59,000.

FTS:  Looking beyond balancing the budget, what do you see as the next big issue for the town?

ALUISE: Economic development and town wide improvements are the two that I would personally consider the most important issues.

We have already approved the construction of a trail along the north side of Grand Avenue. We will have it done this fall. In fact, work has already begun. It will connect from Third Street, next to Cactus Valley Elementary, to Seventh Street, providing a safe walkway for children and other pedestrians along a busy road.

FTS: You called it a trail. Will it made out of concrete or asphalt?

ALUISE: Concrete will only connect to existing concrete across the park and in front of certain residences on the eastern side of the improvement. The rest will be an 8-foot wide asphalt trail.

FTS: I can tell you the kids are really excited about this trail. They’re out in force watching the construction after school. Even the dogs are happy.

FTS:  So, what else do we have to look forward to in Silt?

ALUISE: We have also discussed a skate park and adequate concert facilities.

We are right now in the process of completing a contract with the Library District that will allow them to build a very attractive new library in the existing parking lot next to the town hall. We would provide them the lots on which to build, and in return, the town will receive the old library, providing us an excellent building for other town purposes.  This will mean that the town will not need to consider town hall expansion for possibly 15 to 20 years. Some possible uses for this building could be as a new community center, office space for one of our departments, or even a board meeting room. The district proposed this exchange to the town about 18 – 24 months ago, but it never moved forward, for unknown reasons. To me, speaking only as one board member, this is an issue that should be, and should have been, on a fast track.

Other board members and I also seem committed to trying to locate a small market grocer and bank for our town, utilizing an Urban Renewal Authority, if feasible, to assist with the costs associated with providing them a suitable location. However, if ballot issues 60 and 61 pass, along with Proposition 101, our Urban Renewal Authority and its potential to help our town will be severely limited.

FTS:  Well, that means people who are concerned about maintaining local governments, schools, and services – basic community survival during these economic times – should Vote No on Amendment 60, Amendment 61, and Proposition 101 this November. Sure, everyone talks about tax relief but nobody wants to give up basic government services. Thank you for bringing that to our attention. And thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Any final thoughts?

ALUISE: My biggest concern with regard to the emotions that followed the election was the lack of factual information. More than one opponent of the direction we took stated publicly that contracting the positions we contracted would cost us far more than staff positions would cost, such as the Town Attorney. They gave no numbers, just blanket, “seat-of-the-pants” guesses. Some didn’t even offer their best guesses. They just made blanket statements.

Not even one of those opponents, when I spoke to them privately, could tell me what our annual General Fund revenues are, our projected expenditures, how much we spent on attorney fees last year or even how many enterprise funds we have and their respective revenues and expenditures. It’s this kind of “make it up as you go” thinking that came up with the wild $300 per hour figure for Davis. That’s just ridiculous. That type of thinking is also what took our budget in the wrong direction of huge deficits and would have lead ultimately to no reserves.

As a tax paying citizen, I’m not okay with that.

I really appreciate the chance to address some of these issues, Peggy. Thank you.

FTS:  See you soon at Silt Discount Liquor.

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