A fine line to walk

City budget weighs wants and needs

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Ka-ching

City sales tax revenues have risen annually for the past nine years, by an average of 6 percent per year. Here are those revenues:

1997: $10,534,836

1998: $11,531,956

1999: $12,130,489

2000: $13,179,566

2001: $13,862,324

2002: $13,987,933

2003: $14,106,974

2004: $15,161,356

2005: $16,295,478

2006 (projected): $17,700,000

2007 (projected): $18,600,000

In the bank

City reserves are projected to be $10.1 million at the end of 2006 and $9.4 million at the end of 2007. Of the $9.4 million, the city has set aside $3.8 million as a "rainy-day fund" required by the state's Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, or TABOR. While TABOR requires a rainy-day fund totaling only 3 percent of a municipality's general fund, city finance director Don Taylor said Steamboat, like many cities and towns in Colorado, sets aside 15 percent of its general fund annually. In 2007, the city's general fund is projected to be $35.4 million.

"This is for the most extreme emergencies," Taylor said of the $3.8 million, which includes a $441,000 debt reserve fund.

The reserves also include about $3 million for long-term capital projects, and $1 million to purchase land for affordable housing.

If the city spends an additional $1.4 million of its reserves on surplus funding items in 2007, Steamboat will have about $200,000 of unallocated funding in the bank.

"I'm comfortable with that because of the flexibility that exists," Taylor said.

Below are Steamboat's remaining fund balances, or reserves, as of Dec. 31 in each year listed. The 2007 figure includes $1.4 million in surplus spending.

2005: $10,441,822

2006 Original: $8,440,761

2006 Projected: $10,126,328

2007 Proposed: $8,000,000 (subject to change)

Plus, minus

Total revenues and expenditures from the Steamboat Springs city budget in recent years.

2005

Revenues: $44,024,352

Expenditures: $40,400,642

2006

Original revenues: $38,764,342

Projected revenues: $46,796,528

Original expenditures: $41,119,667

Projected expenditures: $50,517,527

2007

Projected revenues: $45,952,760

Proposed expenditures: $47,592,791

photo

Don Taylor, Steamboat Springs city finance director, crunches numbers in his City Hall office. Beneath his arm is a hefty workbook containing the proposed 2007 budget, which will be finalized at upcoming City Council meetings and includes more than $47.5 million in expenditures. Although the budget projects almost $45 million in revenues, the city has more than $10 million in reserves and a "sound budget," Taylor said.

— Steamboat Springs' city budget is about much more than numbers.

Between the spreadsheet lines are priorities, values, needs and wants - essentially, the present and future direction of the city. During the Steamboat Springs City Council's daylong review of the proposed 2007 budget, council members and city staff defined that direction while allocating more than $47.5 million in projected expenditures for next year.

The budget will be finalized and adopted at upcoming City Council meetings.

Don Taylor, the city's director of financial services, said the 2007 budget has "significant resources" from 2006 sales tax revenues that are projected to exceed expectations by more than $8 million.

"This is one of the strongest sales tax collection years we've had in quite a long time - maybe ever," Taylor said, speculating that the mid-to-late '90s may have seen similar percentage increases.

While projected 2007 expenditures are nearly $2 million more than projected 2007 total revenues of $45.9 million, city funds will have a balance of more than $10 million at the end of this year, leading Taylor to express confidence in the size of Steamboat's wallet.

"We have a sound budget," he said, adding that services will be maintained or increased in "most program areas."

Most of the $47.5 million in expenditures will fund the continued operation of city departments such as transportation, public works and public safety. City departments, were asked to submit 2007 funding requests that equal their 2006 budget, plus an additional 5.5 percent.

Many city departments and community groups exceeded that amount, creating a total of $2.2 million in what Taylor called "over the target" funding requests.

The City Council said it plans to spend about $1.4 million on over-the-target items. That money will come from the city's fund balance, also known as reserves. Last week, the council spent hours discussing which over-the-target items to fund, and which to leave out.

"This gives you an extraordinary opportunity to determine what's important," City Manager Alan Lanning said to the council.

On and off the list

With more than $10 million in reserves and over-the-target funding requests totaling $2.2 million, a simple solution could seem to be bankrolling the whole batch.

But it's not that simple. Nearly all of the reserves are already allocated, for needs including an emergency fund, a debt reserve, long-term capital projects and $1 million to purchase land for affordable housing, Taylor said.

If Steamboat spends $1.4 million on over-the-target items in 2007, the city will have about $8 million in reserves at the end of next year, including about $200,000 in unallocated funding.

With that goal in mind, council members looked at a list of more than 70 requests and simply drew a line. Everything above the line would get funded in 2007, everything below it would not.

Items above the line include:

$100,000 to the city's Public Works Department, for clearing snow from Lincoln Avenue sidewalks this winter.

$225,000 to the Steamboat Springs Police Department for two patrol officers, overtime pay and equipment including emergency lights, radios and a commercial washer for the Steamboat Springs Animal Shelter.

$78,300 to Steamboat Springs Fire & Rescue for two firefighters.

$15,000 to the city's Intergovernmental Services Department for public art projects.

$36,000 to increase the City Council budget, needed for more meetings and events.

$3,134 to parks and recreation to improve the Steamboat Springs Running Series.

Items below the line include:

$38,500 for an update of Vision 2020, a wide-ranging community plan created by a citizen committee in 1994.

$92,900 to the city's Transportation Department to continue Main Street Shuttle service.

$64,000 to transportation for a maintenance worker at Steamboat Springs Airport and a maintenance worker to clean the interior of city buses.

$13,410 to police for a vehicle-speed radar machine.

$13,500 to parks and recreation for new benches at Howelsen Ice Arena.

Because the budget and the $1.4 million surplus funding figure are not yet finalized, City Council President Ken Brenner said items on both lists are subject to change in the coming weeks.

George Krawzoff, the city's transportation director, said the lack of funding for a maintenance worker would adversely affect Steamboat Springs Airport.

"If we don't get that, we'll have to cut hours out there," Krawzoff said.

'The hardest part'

Much of Tuesday's discussion about over-the-target funding involved the 2007 Community Support proposal, which includes more than $700,000 in requests from 50-plus community groups such as Yampa Valley Recycles, Strings in the Mountains, Steamboat Springs Art Council and the Routt County Extension Office.

Steamboat residents presented the work and local impact of their group to the City Council before asking for funding.

"This is really the hardest part of the day," council member Paul Strong said.

Keri Rusthoi of Emerald City Opera and Ira Dubinsky of Steamboat Springs Orchestra each asked for additional funding to expand their programs, but each received the minimal 5 percent increase from their 2006 budgets, as did the arts council.

"The Steamboat Springs Orchestra is evolving into a professional orchestra," Dubinsky said. "Our youth program is off the ground. We work with 30 to 40 kids."

Dubinsky requested $12,000, and received less than $8,000.

The council approved $12,000 for the Fourth of July fireworks; $35,700 for Routt County Search & Rescue and $63,000 for Main Street Steamboat Springs.

The council gave full funding to a request from the Human Resources Coalition, which includes First Impressions of Routt County, Habitat for Humanity and Steamboat Mental Health.

The council cut more than $110,000 in community support requests.

"Everything is adding to the pile," Lanning said. "For us, it's a matter of prioritization."

A copy of the proposed budget is available for public review at City Hall, 137 10th St.

The council must finalize and adopt the 2007 by the end of the year.

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