2004 city budget tightened

Number of services remains close to that offered in 2003

The City Council did not approve any major cuts to services for 2004, but residents could still feel the squeeze of a tightening belt.

A reduction in bus services and an increase in fees for adult recreation leagues are just two items in the 2004 budgets expected to directly impact residents. The council also agreed to lower the city's pay for performance scale for city employees, dropping the average increase in salary from 4.5 percent to 4 percent.

The budget that came before the council proposed spending $37.5 million, which is about 3 million less than what is projected to be spent in 2003, and expected to pull in $34 million in revenue.

Even though the city has seen declining sales tax since January, it had projected a 2 percent increase in sales tax revenue. City Finance Director Don Taylor said it was not an overly zealot projection.

"It will grow again," Taylor said. "Will it grow the way it did in the '90s? I think the days of heady growth are over."

By the time the city budget was approved at Tuesday's budget hearing, the council had increased the amount of reserves it was going to draw on from $98,250 to $214,550. Additions to the budget in the form of funding for summer air service, an increased community service budget and facility maintenance largely contributed to the increase.

In his opening remarks to council, City Manager Paul Hughes said the budget was down from 2003, but it does not propose to do less. He said the city would continue to maintain most of its services, will not lay off employees or have deep cuts in employee benefits and will keep funding capital improvement projects.

"I am compelled to caution you that the proposed budget is a conservative, timid, minimal, sensitive, delicate, balanced, fragile and extremely vulnerable spending plan," Hughes said. "It will not withstand disasters, unpleasant surprises, strong winds or even loud bumps without quick corrective actions."

Transportation Director George Krawzoff said maintaining a status quo budget required him to cut back on bus services and prevented him from expanding his bus routes.

The proposed budget has bus routes not running as frequently in the first and last hour of the day.

Krawzoff said the buses would continue to leave at the Stock Bridge Transit Center at 6 a.m. and have the last run about 2 p.m., but the first and last hour would run bus services on one-hour time intervals instead of every 20 minutes.

Although Krawzoff said cutting back on these routes would impact just a few riders, he expected the greatest impact to be felt in the Walton Pond Apartments area.

"You may receive concerns from several portions of the community," Krawzoff said. "But this amounts to about one (full-time employee) we need to suck up in order to make our budget work," Krawzoff said.

The tight budget also means the bus route can not expand to the Steamboat II area, make a loop up Fish Creek Falls Road or make pick ups along Eagle Ridge Drive, all of which have been heavily requested in the past few years, Krawzoff said.

City Council President Kathy Connell said the private sector, in particular the lodging community, could some day be interested in partnering with the city to increase bus service.

Teams that are part of the city's adult recreation leagues will see a jumps in fees ranging from 8 percent to 148 percent.

The largest impacts, 30 percent or more, will be seen in the fees for adult basketball, adult winter volleyball, adult indoor soccer and adult fall volleyball.

Although adult programs took a hit, the city kept its funding and fees for senior and youth programs even to last year.

"All the adult recreation programs must be self-paying," Hughes said. "It might make some people unhappy when they find out what they have to pay to play. All these programs will go up, so we can preserve the subsidizes for those who can't pay."

The city also made cuts in its pay-for-performance program. Before the change, the scale range for salary increases went from 0 percent to 8 percent, but Taylor said the top end has been reduced to about 6 percent. The average salary raise will drop from 4.5 percent to about 4 percent.

The council did approve an increase in its budget for police patrol officers and sergeants. The city agreed to increase the starting salary of police officers by 6 percent and to increase the pay of current patrol officers and sergeants by 3 percent. The increase will cost about $20,000.

"There were chronic vacancies in the police department for a number of reasons, one of which is the pay rate we offer," Taylor said. "We are confident that this will make us more competitive."

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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