Civics 101 at Lamar’s Community Conversation Night


Lamar Administrator John Sutherland Hosts Community Conversation Night


Local residents got the ABC’s of city finance during a “Community Conversation” evening, hosted by Lamar City Administrator, John Sutherland at the Cultural Events Center this past Thursday evening, January 10. 

With various city department heads and some city councilmembers in attendance, Sutherland provided copies of current city finances, explaining in very informal but comprehensive fashion, just how the city conducted business.  He outlined details up to last November, showing where the tax generated funds came from, how it was apportioned to various departments in labor and material costs and how much had been used against the projected budget.  Sutherland made a comparison between representatives in the federal government, and how they just didn’t ‘get it’ with regard to the Fiscal Cliff message being sent out to ordinary citizens, to the local financial process of city government he wanted to convey to Lamar residents. Sutherland said he wanted to eliminate that kind of disconnect between Lamar residents and their local government.

Sutherland first briefed the gathering on the city’s General Fund for 2013 which is $7,015,201.  This fund covers costs of daily services such as police and fire departments, ambulance and airport, parks and recreation, cemeteries and streets, general government, library, city vehicles and so forth.  He also provided a breakdown on labor and benefits for the departments and how that also was brought into the annual budget making process. 

The audience provided some diverse questions about how to improve the quality of life in the community including the need to develop a recycling program for high volume users of plastics and glass materials; code enforcement on derelict and abandoned buildings, the number dogs allowed to one household, truck parking on city streets, the development of the police force, library services, changes at the two cemeteries in the city, street sweeper schedules, suggestions for developing a hemp farm, expanding Spreading Antlers Golf Course to 18 holes, and the control of semi trucks in downtown traffic.  A young couple, new to the city since this fall attended and inquired about social amenities, stating the answers they had received on what to do in town had ranged from beer to bowling.   

Police Chief McCrea explained that his code enforcement officers were probably the busiest people in the city, but there were limitations on how tall weeds and abandoned vehicles could be regulated.  When asked about the size of the police staff compared to La Junta’s, McCrea explained that he had a total of 19 employees and two non-paid volunteers who could assist, but not act as officers.  La Junta, he said, had about 22 fulltime officers, but almost that many were also in a volunteer status that were trained in La Junta and could act in an officer capacity.  “I’m attempting to create our own Police Academy for Lamar which will help expand our force,” he explained.  Lamar Mayor Roger Stagner explained that the council was working on tightening calendar gaps on offenders as some people could work the system to delay taking action on official warnings through the entire summer.  Knocking down derelict and abandoned buildings was also discussed.  Administrator Sutherland said it was a costly and time consuming process.  “Bobby Ward, our building inspector said he brought down one house recently, but it cost $14,000 to do it,” he stated.  “That was his budget for the year on that one house,” Sutherland explained.  There is an estimated 50 such houses in the city, but nine were taken care of in 2012. 

A by-pass around Lamar will always be a two-edged economic sword.  The usual argument over the past 30 years has been ‘trucks on Main Street discourage business, but the by-pass will kill downtown as all the north/south traffic will bypass the city’.  The need for improvements was discussed, but some citizens were unaware that the street belongs to the state, not the city.  It was explained that Lamar officials can only make suggestions and not dictate to the state that the medians should be removed or truck traffic should stick to only the center lane in town. 

Administrator Sutherland thanked those who attended, promising that there would be future meetings, and would be held at other locations around Lamar.  He also invited residents to attend the monthly informal breakfast sessions held by the council from 7 to 8am at a local restaurant on the first Wednesday of each month.

By Russ Baldwin


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