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Barbara Ahmann from The Art Depot speaks with the Clifton Town Council Thursday about a proposed lease agreement between the nonprofit and the town.

Clifton residents will soon be able to pay their bills, obtain business licenses and pull permits via the town’s website thanks to funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.

The Clifton Town Council voted unanimously Thursday afternoon to use roughly $35,305 to upgrade the website using a portion of the $1.87 million the town received in COVID-19-related relief funds.

The town council created a committee to determine how the funds should be spent and Town Clerk Espie Castaneda said the committee immediately decided they wanted to prioritize projects that would benefit the entire community.

Town staff always realized they needed to update the website, but when the pandemic struck it became even more obvious, Castaneda said. With the town shut down, there was no way for customers to pay bills online or for the town to see to other customer needs.

Website developer Granicus will update the website, but also teach department heads, including Librarian Sabrina Dumas, how to update their sections, Castaneda said.

Overall, residents will be able to fill out 20 different forms online, she said.

Council member Barbara Waddell Reyes said being able to pay bills online will help address one of the concerns expressed by the auditing firm CliftonLarsonAllen earlier in Thursday’s meeting.

Although the town has $4.6 million in a reserve fund and only $2.2 million in annually expenses, Town Manager Rudy Perez said a representative of the firm told the council she is concerned Castaneda and Perez are the only two people who are authorizing expenses and reconciling the town’s accounts. She also expressed concerns that residents of the town-owned North Clifton RV Park often pay their rent in cash.

Perez said the residents are sometimes forced to pay cash because the credit card/debit card system the town uses is often inoperable. They’ve upgraded the park’s internet service, but are working with the vendor to improve its functionality more, he said.

Once the website is updated, Perez said people will be able to reserve one of the park’s 59 spaces in advance, something they can’t do now.

He and Castaneda are working to address the auditor’s other concerns by dividing up responsibilities, Perez said.

In other matters, the town council directed Perez to meet with Barbara Ahmann from The Art Depot to renegotiate the nonprofit’s lease at the historic train depot. The nonprofit is currently on a month-to-month lease based on a percentage of the building’s utility bills, but recently Perez asked The Art Depot to pay $500.

Ahmann told the council they can only spend $200 a month on rent. Moreover, Ahmann said the nonprofit is willing to spend $25,000 in United Way grant funding to upgrade the kitchen, but the new proposed lease states they can’t use the kitchen.

“This makes it sound like we’re a burden or an inconvenience for us to be there, but what other organization is going to come and make all of these improvements?” Ahmann said.

Perez explained he can’t allow anyone to use the kitchen because it and the appliances are unsafe at this point. If they were ever upgraded by the town, it would be unfair to limit their use to The Art Depot, he said.

Castaneda said there are no plans to upgrade the kitchen at this time.

Ahmann again reiterated The Art Depot has the funds to fix the kitchen and said they’d be happy to share those facilities.

As for the $500, Perez said he settled on that amount after learning Empire rented a portion of the building for $1,800 a month a few years ago.

If the town is unwilling to compromise on the lease, Ahmann said she wondered if the council would consider donating the former Elks Club to the nonprofit. They’d make it an asset for the community, she said.

Erin Spears, a dance instructor at The Art Depot, told the council they provide programming the children can’t get anywhere else.

The Art Depot has also offered music appreciation, drama and choral classes along with art classes.

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