City plans $37.5M budget

Hearings are set to begin Tuesday

The 2004 city budget proposes no drops in the level of city services and just two city positions cut, despite declining sales tax revenue in 2003.

The budget also proposes to increase the salary for police patrol officers and sergeants by a total of $20,000, buy two new city buses and a van, and launch a city newsletter online.

The city is predicting that sales tax will increase 2 percent from 2003 but has not yet seen a month exceed 2002 numbers. Total revenue for 2004 is projected at $34.9 million and total spending is proposed at $37.5 million.

With less than three months left in 2003, the city is on mark to spend $40.5 million. The city originally had adopted a $34.5 million budget, but incoming grants, capital projects left over from the year before and other incoming money brought the total projected revenue to $37.4 million and increased spending.

For next year, the $19.4 million that city staff has proposed to spend in the city's general fund is 12.6 percent less than 2003 estimates.

In his letter to the council, City Manager Paul Hughes said the proposed budget would spend less on operating expenses, equipment, capital outlay, community support, debt service and transfers. The only item to increase from the 2003 budget was personnel costs.

Every council member will be combing the budget for places to cut back on spending, City Council President Kathy Connell said.

This Tuesday, the council will hold an all-day budget hearing to review the budget proposed by city staff.

Connell said she saw the need for the city to spend more money on capital improvements, something a property tax proposed to voters in November would do. The $4.6 million the city is proposing to spend on capital projects represents a decrease of 44 percent.

Hughes has said that without an increase in revenue, the city cannot continue to subsidize adult recreation, add another mechanic to the transportation department, buy chairs for Olympian Hall, begin planning upgrades for Ski Time Square, install coin lockers at Howelsen Ice Arena, expand transit services, update planning standards, replace equipment to help maintain ball fields, buy a pavement-repair machine and make trail improvements.

Since January, Connell said, Steamboat has been the only city in the state that has seen sales tax continue to be lower than the year before for every single month.

City Finance Director Don Taylor said cuts made last year made for smaller adjustments this year. For 2003, all city departments were asked to cut spending by 2 percent.

At last year's budget hearing, the council was asked to reduce city bus hours, to eliminate 8.4 jobs and to snow plow less. The city was able to keep its bus scheduled intact, but it did slash the city's snow removal budget by $85,000 by not removing snow piles along Lincoln Avenue directly after snowfalls.

Full-time positions were eliminated in the planning and Parks and Recreation Department in 2003. Also, part-time jobs were eliminated in the police, city clerk, public works, Parks and Recreation and Planning departments.

The city did recommend increasing salaries for patrol officers and sergeants by 3 percent across the board.

Council members agreed the hardest part of Tuesday's budget hearing will be deciding how to spread out the money in the community support portion. Each year the council reviews more than a dozen organizations that ask the city for monetary support.

This year, Councilwoman Nancy Kramer said, community organizations have been instructed not to ask for anything more than what they received last year. Kramer has been working to streamline the community support portion of the budget and to find a way to partner with the Yampa Valley Partners.

The $1.1 million the city staff has budgeted for the community support section is well below the amount being requested.

Connell said that as the economy worsens, nonprofit organizations often rely more heavily on government contributions because cash-strapped businesses have cut donations to local charities.

Along with the community service portion of the budget, the council is sure to discuss its funding with the chamber. The coun-

cil voted in September to use $50,000 a year for five years to help make improvements to the Yampa Valley Regional Airport.

The Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association requested a total of $874,000 in funding. More than $500,000 is part of the marketing program and special event development and is generated largely by vendor fees made by business contributions. The chamber is asking for $200,000 for air service items and another $25,000 to help in its economic gardening program.

Connell said supporting economic gardening and attracting flights to Northwest Colorado is a smart practice in tough economic times, but Councilman Steve Ivancie questioned if the city should be more focused on covering basic services.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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