City to work through budget

Council may leave groups searching for funds elsewhere

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— With 43 separate requests for community support funding and a City Council already bracing itself for a worst-case scenario budget, hearings today may leave more than a few groups looking for cash elsewhere.

Community support funding, oftentimes the most controversial item in the all-day budget talks, offers grants to groups ranging from the Chamber Resort Association to the Community Agricultural Alliance, many of which have depended on city money in the past.

Groups making their first requests for funding will likely be turned back on the recommendation of the city manager. Unless the city is willing to go deeper into its reserves than the $900,000 currently projected, council members may not be willing to boost the recommendations for $1.36 million in support funding any further.

"I'm going to have a hard time approving a budget that goes much further into reserves," Councilman Paul Strong said.

The chamber is dropping its request from last year but is asking for more than the council was willing to approve for the 2001 cycle. The chamber wants $699,000, up $14,000 from its allocation this year. That includes a $10,000 increase in the airline subsidy program, from $90,000 to $100,000, and a 4-percent increase in the request for former vendor's fees. Those fees are given back to vendors and now the chamber for their role in collecting sales taxes.

Chamber Executive Vice President Sandy Evans-Hall wrote the chamber wants to continue to market the community and bolster the local economy. In doing so, the business community can bring money into the city's coffers, she stated.

"Without sales-tax revenues, many of our other funding goals are moot and our quality of life is diminished," she wrote.

One group that has been recommended for full funding is the Human Resource Coalition, a consortium of social service groups including the Visiting Nurse Association and the Routt County United Way.

Millie Beall, the executive director of United Way, said the social service organizations are especially dependent on local money, both in the form of public grants and private donations, because of economic problems on the national level. Federal funding, this year more than ever, is in jeopardy, she said.

"Agencies might not get the trickle-down from the federal government that they have gotten in the past," she said.

Because the city's budget is almost wholly sales-tax dependent, it lives and dies with the valley's tourism economy. And with forecasts of a weak winter for tourism, the city will have to adjust accordingly.

City Council President Pro Tem Kathy Connell said city staff will be presenting the council with numerous scenarios to allow it to prepare for the worst while seeing what could happen if the economy stays strong.

Finance Director Don Taylor is predicting a 3.5-percent increase in sales-tax revenues over this year, which is less than he predicted last year for 2001.

Other major cuts will be discussed in the capital projects budget, which has taken a big hit the past few years. More than $6 million from the capital projects initially proposed may have to be cut, City Manager Paul Hughes said.

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