City whittles its wish list

Bus service expansion will have to wait

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— In reviewing next year's proposed budget, the City Council had more leeway Tuesday than it has had during budget reviews in the past few years, but not enough room to include all the items on its wish list.

At the end of the day, the council had to whittle more than $230,000 worth of items it felt were important but were not covered in the operating budget.

The list of chopped items included paying for public works to fill more cracks on streets, maintaining full bus service during the shoulder seasons, adding a bus mechanic, adding an express bus route during peak hours in the winter season and purchasing more communication equipment for the police department.

City Manager Paul Hughes warned the council during Tuesday's budget review that the city staff already had put in long hours deciding what to include in the city's $43 million budget and what to leave out.

The 2005 budget keeps almost all city services at their current levels and has $13.78 million dedicated to capital outlay, which is a 32 percent increase from last year.

If the council wanted to include the whittled items in the 2005 budget, it would have to look at other items to cut, Hughes told the council. He urged members to "practice budget discipline."

"If we put all this back, we have to go back into the existing budget and take out those things that already passed the test, an important test," Hughes said.

The council spent all day Tuesday reviewing the 2005 budget, which will spend a proposed $43 million and use $856,000 from reserves for capital improvements.

Each department's operating budget uniformly could increase by 3 percent. Any increases more than that had to come out of a discretionary fund.

The city was able to add items from the departments' wish lists back into the budget, including $100,000 for three additional fire firefighters and $117,000 in additional insurance cost, which was two-thirds of the discretionary money.

The council decided Tuesday to spend $30,000 on equipment for the police department as part of an agreement with Routt County to upgrade communication equipment.

The council said a larger policy discussion is in order to discuss how much money the city wants to spend on its bus service. For years, the city has been receiving requests to expand its routes and services, but Hughes said it is a service that has very little revenue stream.

The council reported it would re-examine a proposal to cut evening service in the shoulder seasons at the beginning of February.

The proposed reduction would start bus service at 7 a.m. during the shoulder seasons, run buses every 30 minutes and stop at 7:30 p.m. Currently in the spring, buses run every 30 minutes until 9:30 p.m. and every hour until midnight.

In the fall, buses run every 20 minutes until 9 p.m. and every hour until midnight on weekdays, and until 2 a.m. on weekends.

Keeping the service would cost the city $65,000. Councilman Loui Antonucci suggested waiting until the winter season is under way to see how much money is coming into the city in sales tax revenue and whether there are any partnership opportunities that would help support the route. Transportation Director George Krawzoff said he would work on forming an advisory group to look at how to fund transit services with a dedicated revenue stream.

Most council members were in support of continuing the service in the shoulder season.

"We don't want to start pushing people into not riding the bus," Antonucci said.

The council did agree it did not have the money to support adding an express route during the peak winter hours to shuttle people from the mountain area to downtown. The route would have cost $65,000.

The council also agreed not to spend $39,000 for an extra transit mechanic, who would have helped keep the buses running smoothly during the busy winter seasons.

The council agreed to see whether the $30,000 it would cost to fill in city street cracks could come out of the $540,000 the council already budgeted for its paving program.

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