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— Faced with an anticipated shortfall in revenues again next year, the Steamboat Springs City Council made tough, but necessary, decisions at its budget workshop last week.

The city anticipates a $20.4 million budget for the coming year, a 2.1 percent overall decline from the current budget. The decrease is a result of anticipated declines in sales taxes and building use taxes, the city's primary sources of funding.

Through July, sales tax revenues for this year were even with 2001, but building use tax revenues were more than $500,000 behind. Projections are for sales tax revenues to dip in August and September due to wildfires that hampered tourism in the area.

To tighten its belt, the city plans 2 percent cuts in all departments. While that may not seem like much, the decrease in services will be felt.

Perhaps most noticeable is snow removal. The 2 percent cut means snow will not be removed from Lincoln Avenue after every storm, but every two to three weeks. This will save about $85,000, but it will no doubt leave some residents dissatisfied if snow piles high along downtown storefronts.

"This will be the No. 1 item that residents will comment on and complain about," City Council President Kathy Connell said. Connell's prediction seems likely to come true.

While most of the workshop session was about making cuts, the city made sound decisions to provide additional funds for bus service and marketing through the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association.

To cut 2 percent from the bus program, there was a proposal to start bus service an hour later in the morning and end it two hours earlier in the evening during the winter. The proposal had service starting two hours later and ending two hours earlier in the summer and shoulder seasons.

But city statistics show a significant number of riders are using the bus between 1:30 and 2 a.m. after leaving ski area nightclubs during the winter season. Bus service for these riders serves as an important safety factor for the community. And statistics show a number of workers are using the bus to get to and from their place of employment. Spending an extra $43,000 to maintain the hours of bus operation seems to be a worthwhile investment.

Increasing funding to the chamber by $50,000 was tough for the council when nearly all other agencies and services funded by the city will see cuts or no increase. Councilman Steve Ivancie said he couldn't vote for an increase when "everybody else has to cut back quite a bit."

But that's a short-term vision. As long as the city remains heavily reliant upon sales taxes for revenue, marketing to attract visitors who can drive sales tax revenue is key. And such marketing is more important during tough economic times than it is in good times.

Spending an extra $50,000 on marketing is one of the best ways for the city to return funding for its other services to normal as quickly as possible.

The council should be commended for the start it has gotten on the 2003 budget. Its decisions so far have demonstrated practicality and fiscal responsibility.

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