New council members peruse budget

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— The new members of the City Council were given notice of their first big test Tuesday night. They will need to spend the next week doing a lot of homework before voting on the initially-rejected 2002 budget next Tuesday.

"I'm wondering if they have cut out as much as they can," said new council member Paul 'Loui' Antonucci. "I don't know if you can assure that in a day or even a week."

After the departing City Council rejected the budget last week without discussion as to why they did so, the hefty document was handed to a new council and its three new members to vote on at final reading in seven days.

The council usually approves the budget before outgoing council members leave their seats, but decided to give the budget to the new council after wrestling with it for a few weeks and failing to come to a compromise.

After voting "no" on the budget last week, Council President Kathy Connell decided to change her stance on Tuesday, voting to reconsider the issue. She said she had wanted to table the budget ordinance the week before, but had gotten flustered in the midst of the election and voted to reject it.

Her move for a reconsideration, which was approved 6-1, results in a new final reading of the budget next week, said city staff. If that fails again, the council will have one last go at it next month or else the city will begin 2002 with the same budget allocations it had in 2001.

Big decisions loom in this budget, including the future of Emerald City and its youth programs, the salaries of city staffers and whether the city will finance requested capital projects. The departing council already made a number of decisions about the budget, but those could all go out the window with a new council voting on the numbers.

The cut-heavy budget will be reviewed in April of 2002 to see how the city's revenues are doing in light of the potential for sales tax revenues to drop by 10 percent or more stemming from the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. Until then, the city will likely be deferring many capital projects.

Projects that are likely to be dropped or deferred until spring include the repair of the leaky City Hall roof and interior renovations, a 10th Street parking extension, improvements to the tow house on Howelsen Hill and Yampa River improvements, among others.

Capital cuts and deferrals, in addition to a hiring freeze on new city employees, would save the city about $1.4 million from a $21 million budget that had already been slashed heavily by city staff.

"The staff has done its job and we will be able to come to grips with the budget," said new councilman Steve Ivancie.

"I'm pleased that we will review this in April."

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