2013 outlook: How the new year will bring big discussions that could cost taxpayers
January 8, 2013
Windsor had what many may call a spectacularly successful 2012, but with all eyes shifted to 2013 the question remains — can it continue its rapid growth and trending financial success?
While the town saw completion of several projects, a surge in building permits and record-breaking sales tax revenue, several big-ticket developments and potentially costly investments may be looming for 2013, prompting some to urge caution while hoping for optimism.
The town issued more than 400 single-family home building permits in 2012 in addition to about 300 in 2011, according to Dean Moyer, Windsor's director of finance. At the same, time sales tax revenue exploded each month and topped out around the $6 million mark, he said. Though final year-end reports aren't available yet, Moyer said almost gleefully that the year was one of the best — if not THE best — for the town.
Barring any sort of collapse or sudden retailer shutdown, he remained optimistic the year ahead would be bright. Though financial turmoil in Washington makes headlines daily, he said much of Windsor's operations don't require federal funds, ensuring the stability of the town.
"We always try to do more with less," Moyer said. "We only use what we need."
He said the spots to watch for development business-wise are near the recently completed Colo. 392 interchange — a potential gold mine for retailers and revenue.
Despite the continued good news, Mayor Pro-Tem Kristie Melendez cautioned that in good times, it can be easy to turn a blind eye to a single, seemingly minor rate hike or tax increase. With a slew of projects and financial concerns on the radar, she urged residents to remain in touch with the town's nitty-gritty financials as everyone enters 2013.
"It trickles right down into our own local neighborhoods," Melendez said of funding proposals and improvements. "For me, when I know all these other things are coming into the queue, it's about prioritizing."
In no particular order, what follows are some of the major things Melendez, Moyer and other town leaders urged residents to follow closely moving into the new year.
n WATER: The story of liquid gold along the Front Range surfaces on a regular basis. Be it for drought headlines or rate hikes, Windsor is no stranger to the commotion, and it could be the most pivotal issue moving into the new year, regardless of how snowpack and drought conditions change going into the spring.
The town finds itself in a unique position. Because Windsor retroactively raises water rates, it remains unseen exactly what the effect will be of price hikes from area suppliers — like Greeley — though Melendez urged everyone to keep that on the radar for the back half of the year.
Directly related to potential rate hikes later in the year is how the town should proceed with the idea of its own water treatment plant. Currently the town has to buy treated water from other suppliers — common among smaller communities because of the enormous upfront cost of facility construction.
Building a treatment plant is anything but cheap, but it's something Windsor will be forced to consider for continued growth.
"Water in this part of the country is precious," Moyer said.
In the back of everyone's mind is the regional Northern Integrated Supply Project — NISP — that would ensure adequate water supplies through a network of storage structures including reservoirs. Though no definitive decisions have been made, it's something town leaders are preparing for with action expected in 2014 and early talks and planning likely to come full-circle in 2013.
"We're going to have to plan for those (projects) not only for next year but for probably the five to 10 years to come," Melendez said.
n INFRASTRUCTURE AND PROJECTS: The sure sign of a growing community is having projects in the lineup, indicating growth, financial security and a sunny vision of the future.
Windsor has no shortage of that.
Leaders agree, the largest and potentially most divisive project slated to reappear in 2013 will be whether and/or how to move forward with the proposed redesign and expansion of the Community Recreation Center.
In 2012, an ad hoc committee presented to the board a proposed $14 million expansion that would include top-notch water fixtures including a slide, advance pool and a much more expansive fitness area — something area business owners have worried could run them out of town because of what they previously called unfair competition.
Beyond that, the issue of funding such an expensive redesign and a potential sales tax increase, the board agrees, will need to go to the voters. The question remains: what should the town's role be? Could there be private-public partnerships among area businesses and the town? What about the YMCA's interaction with the development?
"There are those kinds of things, I think, that have yet to be answered," Melendez said. "Those are things I think we have to look at."
She cautioned that a simple tax increase might not directly impact people severely, though it's one of several things that will be looming.
There are also ever-present questions of how best to alleviate budgetary pressures within the ever-expanding Windsor-Severance Re-4 School District, especially as prospects of technology improvements begin to form, potentially costing millions of dollars that would likely need to be footed by the community.
"Everybody wants to avoid cuts, but the reality is I don't know how else you can fix things correctly," Melendez said. "It means you have to make cuts."
Top projects aside, the community will also be forced to revisit where it stands with infrastructure and roadway improvements — ongoing considerations for any jurisdiction. Additionally, controversial topics including the implementation of Amendment 64 are sure to drum up controversy and plenty of discussion.
To Melendez, the vision moving forward was bright, though with a grain of salt. Acknowledging that she, too, is a taxpayer living in the community, she said everyone must closely eye each project in relation to the grand scheme of things — not just on an individual basis.
The consequences otherwise, she said, could overwhelm residents at a time then everyone is still recovering from economic hardship in past years.
"Can we all really absorb everything?" she questioned bluntly. "I think that's something everybody in our entire community have to look at."