The 2020 City of Montrose budget has been approved by the city council. Put to bed… a done deal, right? Well, yes and no. Mayor Dave Bowman voted against approval of the budget as it was presented on its second reading despite voting yes on the first reading. The budget ordinance passed, 4-1.
The recent 2A public safety ballot issue that passed by less than a 1% margin has brought two interpretations to how the vote went down. Those for the 1% sales tax say, “See, look, the voters spoke and we’re moving forward.”
Those against are saying it barely passed, therefore the city needs to be transparent and accountable with the new taxpayer dollars. Seemingly both sides are correct.
Now the public focus has turned to Bowman. Some say Bowman misspoke or misunderstood the idea that there were two versions of the budget for staff to work on after an Oct. 3 city budget retreat. Others say good for Bowman for voting his conscience.
Bowman believed there was $800,000 earmarked for public safety, regardless of whether the public safety sales tax received voter approval. Bear in mind that none of these were moved from any funds. This was just a line item on a budget that had not been formally presented. At the Nov. 12 city council meeting, when the first reading of the proposed budget was presented, Finance Director Shani Wittenberg corrected Bowman and the rest of council on the amount that was earmarked to $670,000.
Everyone on city council and within city staff, except Bowman, is in agreement that the $670,000 was proposed to be used for public safety only if the public safety tax initiative failed. Bowman didn’t see it that way.
Others contend that staff was instructed to have another budget proposal ready in case the initiative passed. Bowman doesn’t believe that discussion formally happened. Because Bowman presented at town hall meetings alongside Montrose Chief of Police Blaine Hall, he believes he made a promise to those in attendance that no money would be moved from public safety. And since he made these presentations after the Oct. 3 budget retreat, he believes he is going back on his word in regards to the $670,000. My understanding is that the city wouldn’t move money from public safety if the resolution passed and a public safety fund was established. In Bowman’s mind it included the $670,000.
This past week I sat down with Mayor Bowman to get a better understanding of why he had a difference in opinion with his fellow council members and city staff.
Were there two budgets to be prepared in case the 2A initiative passed or failed?
Bowman: There has never been anything close to a plan B to the budget. There was a plan A presented on Oct. 3, but there was never a formal plan B presented that I was aware of.
There was $670,000 budgeted for public safety?
Bowman: The revenue was at one level and we put an additional $670,000 into public safety to pump up the police department and make it better. There was no discussion about if 2A passes what would happen with that revenue.
Why is it important to you to have an additional $670,000 added to public safety even though the tax initiative passed?
Bowman: It’s important because, number one, we don’t know for sure what the total costs will be for the new building, and to me $670,000 is a very nice cushion in case some of our figures are off. In fact, if some of those figures come in lower, we could have taken that money and make an early payment on the loan and save our taxpayers money.
Why do you believe the other council members, excluding Roy Anderson, who wasn’t at the budget retreat, are saying they remember that the $670,000 would be redistributed in the budget if the initiative didn’t pass?
Bowman: I can’t answer that question.
Then at the end of the budget retreat, was there any discussion about the $670,000?
As the meeting dissolved, I remember hearing at one end of the room some comments about what if. There was never a formal discussion or a plan B presented. Budgets are on paper but you don’t talk about budgets. You talk about philosophies. Budgets are real. They’re numbers. There was never a printed plan B presented.
The $670,000 is now in the capital reserves. Can this money be used toward the new police building?
Bowman: It could be moved back into public safety if it’s for the new police building. Right now, today, we have police officers on the street carrying their own rifles. I’ve been told in 2020 with the new money we will be able to order new rifles for all of our police officers. That’s the way it should be. It was proposed for the 2020 budget that there would be $75,000 to fund electric car chargers for tourists. I proposed that we move the $75,000 from the car charger budget into public safety so we could immediately take care of enough rifles for the police department and hire a record tech which we proposed within the public safety budget to be hired. I felt if 2A was defeated we could at least hire one of the civilian people which would allow police officers — which is now doing that function — to spend more time on the streets.
Help the readers understand why you get to the City Council meeting and four are thinking one way and you are thinking another way on the budget. Where do you think that comes from?
Bowman: I spent 40 years working on government budgets from Scottsdale, Arizona to Montrose Colorado and I know how government budgets work and there is no doubt in my mind that it would have been a much better decision and maybe not financially but certainly politically to leave that money where it was. It wasn’t that much money when you look at a budget approaching $20 million. But it buys a whole lot of good will. I wanted to make sure our community knew that we were going to be as responsible as possible in supporting our police department.
What do you say to those who are saying you’re just misspeaking on this whole issue?
Bowman: I would say that they have their opinion and they have their reasons for that opinion. What I’m trying to do is protect the taxpayer dollars. That is what I was elected to do.
It was a four to one vote and the money is where it is. Is it time to move on?
Bowman: Absolutely. This issue is over. I’m suggesting now to council and the city manager that we develop a report card so that on a regular basis the citizens will know…What is our response time for our police now? What has happened to the amount of crimes that people have been arrested for and people that have been convicted. It’s time to make sure that when we say we are going to hire two more resource officers — in my heart, I believe that those are the first two people hired — that we get those people hired as quickly as possible. In all of the different areas that we said we are going to hire for the police I asked Bill Bell to develop a very visual report card so that we all know that on 2A how successful the implementation is.
How is your relationship with City Manager Bill Bell?
Bowman: I haven’t seen Bill since the council meeting Tuesday night, but I will spend this next weekend with him. I don’t see why there should be any damage in our relationship. He can’t expect a 5-0 vote every time. If council voted 5-0 every time then our citizens better ask, “What the hell is going on?”
After sitting with Bowman and reviewing video of the past three city council meetings, I’ve come to a few conclusions.
Dave Stockton — who was on the public safety steering committee and an advocate on 2A — during a public comment period on the first reading of the budget told the mayor he was also at the budget retreat and remembers staff being directed to have a second budget if 2A failed. That’s a whole lot of people remembering a second plan.
The mayor said, at city council meetings, he was the one who spoke to the public alongside the police chief. He believes his integrity is at risk by not appropriating that $670,000 in the original budget proposal to public safety .
But the public safety fund was not established until after 2A passed, so the $670,000 was never officially in the fund. It was simply earmarked. A fiscal conservative should see that $670,000 in the capital reserve fund is much more prudent. It doesn’t have to be spent. Reserve funds are extremely important to help prepare for an economic downturn or worse, like the recession of 2008.
I understand Bowman’s point about perception. For political reasons, give a win to those who said more money should have been spent on public safety in the past and that crime increase didn’t happen overnight.
It would have been a good look for the City of Montrose in certain eyes. But you can’t buy love for the long-term on a short-term strategy.
From this episode in Montrose’s history, good things will come. Open dialogue and better reporting to the public are just a couple of the positives we can take away.
Montrose is an incredible community, and we don’t always have to agree, but we all should stay engaged. It’s time to move on and celebrate the exciting things happening in Montrose.
Dennis Anderson is group publisher for Wick Communications, Alaska and Colorado. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org