Dillon plans to adjust budget to allow for additional spending on staff raises, concert series
The town of Dillon has found itself in a stronger financial position than was anticipated this year as the local economy begins its slow recovery from business restrictions over the past year, and officials are hoping to put the excess funds to good use by hiring on new staff, giving raises to employees, bringing back events and moving forward with capital projects.
“We said last year, when we adopted the 2021 budget, we knew it was conservative,” Dillon Finance Director Carri McDonnell said. “We had hoped that revenue would increase and that we’d be able to do some budget amendments. Well, we’re here now. … Not only did we not have a 15% decline in sales tax last year, we had an increase of 2.5%, and we’re seeing some good increases this year.”
McDonnell presented the town’s current budget situation to the Dillon Town Council during a regular work session Tuesday, April 20. She noted that in the general fund alone, the town has an excess of $1.5 million in additional funds to spend this year due to stronger-than-anticipated sales tax revenue last year and updated sales tax projections and event revenue for 2021. McDonnell also provided some recommendations for how the town could best spend the additional revenue.
At the top of the list was reintroducing staff raises and working to bring in additional staffing. Council members agreed to an additional 2% raise for employees across the board, with the exception of the council. Staff previously received a 2% raise, meaning they’ll now get a 4% raise retroactive to the beginning of the year. The council also agreed to fill a couple of positions that were left vacant last year, including a new police officer and maintenance worker, due to budget constraints brought on by the pandemic.
The last major staffing item addressed a need to make seasonal worker positions with the town more attractive by increasing the starting pay from $13.50 to $15 per hour for seasonal employees to help out with events, landscaping and more. The raises will also apply to Dillon Marina, where Operations Manager Craig Simson said finding employees has been difficult. Simson said he’s hopeful the increase in wages will allow more people to take seasonal jobs without having to weigh wages, housing and the overall attractiveness of the job against one another.
“What I’ve been talking about is this Summit County formula of you can get paid $16.50 if you work at Wendy’s, but then we come back and say, ‘Well do you want to work at Wendy’s?’” Simson said. “People say, ‘Nah, I get more benefits here’ — the benefits being the outdoors and the sun and the mountains and everything else.
“That formula is kind of snapping in half right now. We are getting to the point where that calculation is almost becoming not a choice. So I really appreciate council’s considerations of higher wages because I think it’s going to help big time.”
While not part of the budget amendment process, McDonnell said staff is in longer-term conversations about other ways to retain employees and help them find housing. McDonnell pointed to a few options for council members to consider in the future, including providing dedicated housing stipends or reserving additional town-owned units for employees, like at the proposed Summit County Road 51 workforce housing project being considered in partnership with Summit County and the U.S. Forest Service. McDonnell also recommended providing additional vacation time for returning seasonal staff to give them a better work-life balance.
The town is also planning on bringing back a full slate of concerts this summer. The Town Council agreed on a nearly $700,000 increase for additional events funding. McDonnell said events will require more staffing to handle public health restrictions this year, and the town anticipates about a $458,000 deficit from concerts. Though, McDonnell said the numbers are based on conservative attendance and food and beverage sales, and she ultimately expects the deficit to look closer to a traditional year by the end of the season.
“I think this is going to be a killer concert season, and I’m happy to put as much money as we need to have a really great blowout year and get everyone back in town,” Mayor Carolyn Skowyra said. “I think people will come and spend a lot of money going all out.”
McDonnell said the town also is getting a $207,000 American Rescue Act reimbursement from the state, along with some available grants from the Colorado Department of Transportation, which will be available in the coming months to help fund capital improvements. Among projects that could see some of the money are the ongoing Town Park improvements, perimeter fencing around the amphitheater, computer replacements for the police department, new electronic sign boards and more.
Among other requested expenditures, the Town Council gave a go-ahead to replace computers at the marina offices, kick off a façade improvement program, and design new stairs for Town Hall, Lodgepole Street and the town center.
McDonnell said staff would officially bring the budget changes forward during the next Town Council meeting May 4. Despite the extra spending, McDonnell assured officials that the town is in a good enough place financially to make them work.
“This is still a very conservative approach,” McDonnell said. “We’re not spending every dime we have. We’re not projecting sales tax to be up dramatically. This is a good way of showing that there’s some money available, and I’m very comfortable that we can spend (this money).”
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