Community Garden focus of Nov. 12 budget discussion

By Rudy Hemmann
The Surveyor

The Berthoud Board of Trustees worked for more than four hours on Nov. 12, hammering out details of the 2015 budget. The regularly scheduled meeting was held on Wednesday due to the observance of Veterans Day the Tuesday prior.

According to the information sheet provided by town staff, the budget process is similar to last year in that the general fund budget exceeds $1 million out of balance in the long-range financial plan. Requests for much needed staffing and equipment replacements again had to be trimmed back drastically and moved to the outlying years in an attempt to balance the plan for at least the next three years.

The trustees began the discussion regarding a $7,000 request from the group managing the Pioneer Park community garden to build an outbuilding for tool storage and supplies, as well as improvements to the garden’s irrigation system. The funds fall under the Berthoud Park and Recreation’s budget.

The group also requested permission for the construction of a compost bin either in the garden proper or immediately adjacent to it. The compost bin would essentially be free to the community since it will be built as an Eagle Scout project.

Prior to the board discussion, Mayor David Gregg asked for public comment specifically related to the garden request. Berthoud resident and former trustee John Bauer took the podium and requested trustees Paul Alaback and Michael Henning recuse themselves from discussion of issues involving the community garden because of a perceived conflict of interest.

“One of the things we have always tried to do, as board members, is keep clear of any appearance of impropriety when dealing with budget items,” Bauer said.

Bauer stated that Alaback’s connection to Berthoud Local, a nonprofit organization which distributes some of the items grown in the community garden, and his role as advisor to the community garden organization are conflicts of interest. Bauer also charged that Henning, too, had a conflict of interest because he did remodel work for the firm Energy Logic, which employs Henning’s wife. The owners of Energy Logic, Steve Byers and Wynn Maggi, are both active in the community garden program and Berthoud Local as well.

Bauer contended, due to the close associations between the two trustees, the community garden organizers and the Berthoud Local organization, it would be difficult for Henning and Alaback to remain objective.

“That’s an important issue,” Alaback said in response to Bauer’s comments. “That is the reason why I am not on the board of Berthoud Local.

“I’m not on the board so I don’t have any official role in the organization,” Alaback said. “I do not see how I could benefit financially from [my association with the group] any more than any other Berthoud resident.”

Henning, too, said that Bauer’s accusations were nonsense.

“The fact that my wife works for one person involved in this community garden is completely irrelevant,” Henning said. “My wife is not involved in Berthoud Local; she is not involved in the community garden, nor am I. The fact I have done work for Energy Logic, that’s like saying I can’t work for anyone in this town.”

However, Bauer’s argument didn’t stop there. He also said that public funds should be spent in ways that benefit the entire community and not one specific group. Bauer cited the town’s current financial bind as an example of why it’s a difficult time to take funds from other capital improvement projects, such as street maintenance, that benefits the entire community, and spend those resources on something as trivial as a tool shed.

Five more individuals spoke to the issue with four speaking in favor of the improvements to the community garden, while one more was opposed.

During discussion by the board it was evident that Henning and Alaback were in favor of approving the $7,000 to the budget. However, the other trustees, including Mayor Pro-Tem Jan Dowker, opposed to the additional expenditure.

“We are a town of limited resources; using those resources to the best of our abilities to maximize the potential of all town residents is something we really need to think about when making these decisions,” said Dowker. “How do we make certain we continue to meet critical needs before meeting other needs? Those are the things we are weighing. We’re not just weighing if we are going to have a shed in Pioneer Park for rakes and shovels.”

Reasons given for opposition to the community garden expenditure included that the current space is too small to maintain a community garden and was intended to be temporary. Other reasons stated included: the garden needs to be managed (or overseen) by the Berthoud Parks Department; the town needs to finish the capital improvements already scheduled for Pioneer Park before taking on new improvements; the gardening group needs to meet with town staff and trustee representatives to establish realistic goals, expectations and ways to manage the capital improvement needs of the garden; and finally defining the partnership between the town and the group representing the community garden.

Supporters of the expenditures stated they needed a secure place to store gardening equipment and supplies. They also noted the garden was at one time to be irrigated with non-potable water, along with the rest of the park. However, with many young children taking part in gardening activities it was mutually agreed between the gardening group and town staff to segregate the irrigation system for the garden and irrigate the garden with potable water.

Supporters also stated the compost bin would make it possible to eliminate the piles of garden refuse which accumulate within and adjacent to the garden.

The board’s final recommendation was to allow $1,500 to be added to the budget for segregation of the irrigation system from the rest of the park, a timer to allow automatic watering of the garden, mounting of a whiteboard or bulletin board to allow gardeners to communicate, and construction of the compost bin.

RAFT gets a boost

The trustees loosened their grip on the purse strings slightly by authorizing Hart to issue a $4,000 payment to Rural Alternatives For Transportation (RAFT) once a voucher-based service agreement between the Berthoud Area Transportation Service and the rural-based RAFT is signed by both parties. The voucher agreement would allow RAFT system vehicles to pick up or deliver town residents to their homes during hours BATS busses are not in service.

River Glen service station

The board approved, without comment, a resolution authorizing and establishing the implementation of a (wastewater) lift station fee for River Glen (subdivision) customers. The resolution establishes the lift station fee at $4 per household per month. The lift station fee is in addition to regular monthly wastewater fees.

The residents of the River Glen subdivision, through their homeowners association, petitioned the town to connect to the town’s municipal wastewater treatment facilities. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment had deemed the sewage treatment facility in use by the subdivision, an open lagoon type system, to be a potential cause of pollution and issued a cease and desist order in early 2011.