City: Hard times are ahead

Council discusses options in wake of economic downturn

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— The City Council believes the city will continue to face grim economic times.

Those predictions led the council to ask City Finance Director Don Taylor not to increase the expected sales tax revenue by 4 percent each year. Council members recommended keeping the sales tax projections flat or declining for the coming years.

At Tuesday's annual City Council retreat, Taylor presented the projected revenues for the next six years.

Those numbers spurred a discussion on how the city, funded primarily on the economy-driven sales tax, would adjust to the downward spiral in the economy.

Councilman Loui Antonucci compared the scope of the economic downturn to the Depression in the 1930s and said while the city is in hard times, so are its residents.

"If we go out and ask the people for money, they are not going to have it," Antonucci said.

Council President Kathy Connell said the city is going to have to start cutting more services as sales tax revenues decline.

"(The public) has got to feel our pain," she said. "There is a lack of trust that the city has too much money. No one is feeling our pain. It is ugly."

The council's discussion should not have a major impact on the 2003 budget, which received final approval on Dec. 3. But Councilwoman Arianthe Stettner said the move to raise user fees for fields and Howelsen Hill was the easy decision for the 2003 budget; the tough choice of which services to cut will come with future budgets.

The council also saw less revenue coming into the city, leading to the added challenge of more people needing help from the government.

Connell said nationwide, fewer corporations and foundations are giving to charities and nonprofits. That is coupled with fewer dollars from the state and federal government.

"As more and more people are hurting, more people will be in the face of council," Connell said. "I think we need to pay attention that (nonprofits) are going to come to us for more donations."

Taylor asked the council why it voiced support during Monday's joint meeting with Routt County commissioners for funding the housing authority and the airport authority if it felt the city was heading into hard economic times.

But Connell said if the economic downturn continues, affordable housing could be everywhere as units that were once used as short-term rentals are put on the market. While comparing it to the housing market in the mid-1980s, Antonucci said if that is the case, it might be an opportunity for the government to step forward and buy units at reasonable prices.

The council also discussed ways it could save money. Recommendations were made to save the cost of printing out council packets by putting them in an electronic format.

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