Council hears state's budget woes

Officials attended conference last week in Denver

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— Colorado's dire financial straits were the focus of Steamboat Springs City Council members last week during a statewide municipal conference in Denver.

Councilman Paul Strong said Colorado's budget crisis was the overriding message at the Colorado Municipal League's legislative conference, held Wednesday and Thursday, and attended by representatives from more than 120 towns and municipalities.

Council President Kathy Connell said discussions also covered the state's water supply and bills before the General Assembly that, if passed, would erode local control.

Before going to the CML conference, Strong knew the state had severe budget problems, but he said what he heard last week puts the budget at a crisis level.

This year, the state made a 3 percent cut across the board, then added an additional 4 to 6 percent cut.

Along with those sweeping cuts, next year the state will not have the benefit of the $350 million that was taken in one-time accounting tricks, Strong said.

Next year, Strong said the cut could be as big as 20 percent, which means dropping the $5.8 billion budget by approximately $1 billion.

"The budget is a huge concern," Strong said.

Strong predicts the city will not be as hard-hit as Routt County, which receives state funding for its human services programs.

But impacts to the city could be felt through fewer grants, less transportation funding and larger requests from non-profits which will have their state and federal funding slashed.

The state could also take money from the Energy Impact Fund, which has provided millions of dollars in grants to Routt County in the last few years.

"It is going to be ugly," Connell said. "April is going to be ugly."

April is the month the state sets its budget.

At the CML conference, the municipalities also talked about the impending drought. Although the city's reservoirs kept the water supply abundant in Steamboat, Connell remains concerned about where the state's water is going.

"The amount of water flow that leaves the state is a concern to me," Connell said. "I really feel supportive of (Gov. Bill) Owens. We do need to take a look at the amount of water that is leaving."

The council members also talked to legislators about bills that would favor statewide rule over local control.

The most threatening bill, Connell and Strong said, is Senate Bill 154, which would take away municipalities' right to impose deed restrictions on affordable housing. Council members worry it would eliminate municipalities' ability to keep an available stock of affordable housing.

Strong said municipalities were also concerned about wording in state bills that would designate laws as statewide concern, meaning they would have the potential to supersede any local laws.

Those laws would apply to gun control, a bill that would require all TABOR-related election issues to occur during November's general election and a bill requiring partisan elections for elected officials.

"Currently, there is a lot of attack on local control," Strong said.

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