Council considers cutbacks

Declines in bus service, jobs, maintenance seen as solution to budget woes

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— The Steamboat Springs City Council will have to decide if it wants to see bus hours drop, 8.4 jobs eliminated and maintenance decline for city parks and trails in the 2003 city budget.

The 2003 budget was cut 2.1 percent from last year and required all city departments to slash their spending by 2 percent.

With stagnate tourism meaning unpredictable sales tax revenue and a decrease in construction meaning fewer dollars from the building-use tax, Councilman Loui Antonucci questions if the cuts have gone deep enough.

"I don't know if the 2 percent cut is enough to get to next year. Not only is sales tax a problem, but also the building-use tax is really gotten a hard hit in 2002," Antonucci said. "I don't know if that environment is going to get any better in 2003. We need to be as conservative as you can be."

On Tuesday, the council will work through the proposed 2003 budget at an all-day budget retreat.

In numbers released last week, the total proposed spending for 2003 is $20,497,075, which is a drop from $20,927,718. The $430,643 decrease means service and personnel cuts across the board.

The city is predicting a 3 percent increase in sales tax revenue over this year's current estimate. With the building-use tax declining by 65 percent this year, the city has projected a slight increase but predicts it will bring in just $725,000. In 2001, the building-use tax collected about $1.4 million.

Even though sales tax revenue is expected to increase by 3 percent, City Finance Director Don Taylor said the budget still had to be cut by 2 percent to decrease the amount of money drawn from reserves. In 2003, $306,814 will come out of reserves compared to the $864,783 this year, a number the council thought was too large to sustain. At the end of 2003, the city will still have $6.5 million in reserves.

By decreasing bus service, the city plans to cut more than $40,000 from its budget. During the winter season, buses will run one hour later in the morning and end two hours earlier in the evening. In the summer and shoulder season, buses will stop service two hours earlier.

One of the biggest impacts will be ending the winter bus service from the ski area to downtown at midnight instead of 2 a.m., when bus service has a jump in passengers as bars close in the area. Bus service declines dramatically after 8 p.m. until the last runs of the evening.

With the early morning routes starting at 6:59 a.m. instead of 5:59 a.m., the city said those with early morning shifts will be impacted the most. The worst case will be for those living in the condominium area working downtown, who will not arrive at Seventh and Lincoln until after 8 a.m.

In the summer, the last run from the ski area to downtown will be at 9:26 p.m. instead of 11:26 p.m. on the weekdays and 1:26 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.

The equivalent of 8.4 full-time employees have also been taken out of the 2003 budget, but Taylor said it does not mean the city will be laying off anyone. The city has been on a hiring freeze for about a year and those positions have already become vacant through attrition.

Both the Planning and Parks, Open Space and Recreation departments will lose one full-time employee and the Transit department will lose 1.45 employees.

In the Parks, Open Space and Recreation department, cuts will be made by reducing improvements and repairs to the trail system, having one fewer worker for parks, sports fields and facility maintenance and reducing the service hours of Howelsen Ski Area. The department will also cancel horseback riding, Challengers Camp and Thrill Seekers Camp along with decreasing the amount of sponsorship dollars for the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo Association.

In the Public Works department, snow removal has decreased along with pavement and drainage maintenance.

Although departments have slashed their budgets, the community support allotment has remained constant at $1,139,054. Some of the biggest requests are from the Human Resource Coalition for $167,000, the Tread of Pioneers Museum for $50,000 and the Arts Council for $40,000.

Under a separate item is the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association's request for $670,000. In a letter sent to the council, the chamber said it would spend $470,000 on non-ski season marketing, which was formerly vendor fees, $75,000 on special events, $25,000 on economic gardening and $100,000 on airline investment.

"I think one of the worst things you can do in hard economic times is stop advertising," Antonucci said of his support for the chamber request.

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