Looking back to the 1980’s-1990’s, Westminster grew at a record pace.

The bulk of the Westminster Mall was built with five of its six anchors (Joslin’s Department Store was built first betting on the come in the late-1970’s). The Westminster Plaza was re-developed, the Promenade complex anchored by the Westin Hotel and 24 theatre AMC complex was built. Many residential developments throughout the city were built with restaurants and mixed development along various major arterial streets and state highways popping up and much more.

At the same time came a plethora of public improvements financed by the city government to keep pace with the development. These included fire stations, recreation centers, hundreds of lane miles of paved streets and bridges, a major joint library, a new city hall, two golf courses with clubhouses, numerous parks, the Ice Centre, the MAC, storm drainage facilities, softball fields, swimming pools, police and courts facility and more.

Some of these facilities are now 40-plus years old. Just like your car and home, these facilities experience wear and tear over the years. Parts have to be replaced. Whole systems like HVAC or a boiler need replacement or electrical upgrades are required with today’s emphasis on electronics.

The basic point I am making is Westminster city government is facing a growing cost of non-utility infrastructure needs. It has nothing to do with the water and sewer systems which the city owns and maintains. They have their own challenges. That is a separate financial matter given the financial budgeting and accounting which are mandated to do separate.

Where will the money come from?

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly had a harsh financial impact and time delays on new construction, major repairs and major replacement parts such as electronics. Recently, the church which my wife and I are members had to pay for a $550,000 HVAC replacement system.

Prices are ridiculous. According to GlobeST.com, “Despite some recent easing, non-residential construction input costs are up 16% from a year ago and 41% since the start of the pandemic.”

Building materials such as steel, lumber and concrete have jumped in price beyond one’s imagination. Some individual items are 200%-300% higher than pre-COVID-19.

The city recently spent $7 million on replacing the irrigation systems at both city-owned golf courses. These were plastic pipes; not metal.

I could go on with other examples, but all of us have seen and felt the jump in prices for vehicles, major appliances, home construction and more. The point involving the city and every other city and town across America is that capital replacements, major repairs and parts replacements have been on the rise for quite some time which then are caught up in the overall upward cost spiral. So, where is the money going to come from to pay for the needed replacement/repair work? That’s the $64 question!

Budget cuts versus new revenue

City Manager Mark Freitag had a valid idea to seek Westminster’s taxpayers input regarding a possible tax increase. However, I think his timing was off. Given the pending huge jump in property taxes hanging over our heads, it would be best to wait at least another year to launch even a survey; let alone push for a tax ballot question.

His point was two-fold: First, the city, to a significant degree, relies on “pay-as-you-go” capital funding of general government improvements. On the average, that produces approximately $10-$11 million per year for major repairs, replacements and some new facilities. With the aging of all the infrastructure that was built in the 1980’s-1990’s, this amount will not be near enough annually to keep up.

The other point Freitag shared with city council was that Westminster has for decades provided a high level of service and the community expects that to continue.

The point is that if you are thinking of cutting the budget, I would say be careful where and how much you cut. It could impact the level of service which can be provided day-to-day. I do believe there are areas can be cut – and should – without affecting the service level.

So, let’s go back to the question of where does the money come from to keep up with capital replacements and repairs, although I am going to save my thoughts for now on that.

The next step city officials should consider is to appoint a citizens’ task force to wrestle with the question. It could analyze available options to raise more revenue and report back to city council. Obviously, staff would need to provide a plethora of background information to the group. I know that would make some management staff and some council member nervous, but the city needs more citizen involvement and buy-in. This would be a step in that direction.

A grand opening of Hyland Hills Sports Center

Last week, Hyland Hills Park and Recreation District official unveiled the brand new Sports Center.

What a treat! What a sense of community among all the families, gymnasts, officials and the public. It is a gymnast’s delight with the much larger facility which will now accommodate the 500 enthusiastic participants who will call the center “home.”

Don’t forget the beautiful gymnasium where pickle ball will be included. Congrats Hyland Hills on a top notch facility for the public’s use!

Federal clock is ticking and McCarthy is maneuvering

The mess in the U.S. House of Representatives among the Republicans continues to churn. The ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus along with Donald Trump’s influence are attempting to block 11th-hour efforts to avoid the federal government going into default on budget authorizations.

In other words, the government can’t pay their bills due as of Oct. 1 without Congressional spending authorization.

The Freedom Caucus has threatened to push to remove Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy if he doesn’t move ahead on significant budget cuts. He said in plain, colorful language to go ahead and try to throw him out of his Speaker’s seat.

Furthermore, McCarthy is attempting to parlay a short term funding resolution to avoid a default as well to bring the Defense Department budget to the House floor for approval. So, McCarthy found some “backbone” and is now challenging the ultra-conservative wing.

While I am not a fan of McCarthy, I admire his fortitude to not let a small group control the actions and decisions of the entire U.S. House of Representatives. Go for it, Mr. Speaker!

A quick reminder

It’s worth mentioning again the two candidates’ forums which are scheduled here in Westminster.

The City Council candidates’ forum is set for Sept. 30 with doors opening for coffee etc. at 8:30 a.m. and with the forum running from 9- 11 a.m.

The ten candidates are Bruce Baker, Claire Carmelia, Amber Holt, Kristine Ireland, Jeff Jones, Karen Kalavity, Paul Page, Timothy Pegg, Seymour (incumbent) and William Scott Shilling.

The second forum involves Westminster Public Schools board of education candidates Oct. 4 with doors opening at 6:30 p.m. with the forum beginning at 7 p.m.

The six candidates for the three seats (four year terms) are Brenda Gallegos, Charles Gallegos, Christine Martinez (incumbent), Mary Beth Murphy, Anthony Sisneros and Audrey Yanos.

Both forums will be held at the Westminster Grange located at 3935 W. 73rd Ave. across from Fire Station No. 1.

I urge you and your neighbors to attend to learn more about what each candidate stands for.

Again, we thank the Adams County and Jefferson County LWV, The Heart of Westminster (formerly the Westminster Progressive HOA), the Westminster Grange and the Observatory Heights HOA for their respective involvement with each forum.

Bill Christopher is a former Westminster city manager and RTD board member. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media. You can contact him at bcjayhawk68@gmail.com.

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