City to take on budget

All-day discussion outlines fiscal plan

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— The Steamboat Springs City Council is scheduled to work all day Tuesday to publicly discuss the city's 2008 budget, in an annual hearing that can become an emotionally charged, bring-your-dinner affair.

But this year, City Manager Alan Lanning said Sunday, the City Council might not work into the night - or even much of the afternoon.

"I don't think it will last all day," Lanning said of Tuesday's budget hearing, which begins at 8 a.m. at Centennial Hall. "It probably won't last much past 1 or 2 (p.m.)."

The reason for Lanning's confidence, he said, is the similarity of city revenues and spending in 2007 and 2008.

"It's almost exactly like last year's budget," Lanning said of the 2008 figures he prepared with Bob Litzau, the city's interim director of financial services.

The city is projected to spend more than $55 million in 2007, while receiving more than $54 million in revenues, including $18.6 million in projected sales tax funds.

In 2008, Lanning and Litzau project city spending of about $53 million and revenues of about $46 million. Litzau projects the city's reserves to rise from a projected $10 million at the end of 2007 to more than $10.3 million at the end of 2008.

Lanning said he expects the City Council to maintain current funding levels for community support, a part of the budget that includes local groups such as the Yampa Valley Land Trust and Steamboat Springs Arts Council and can inspire passionate pleas for funding in budget discussions. In its 2007 budget, the City Council allocated more than $1.6 million in community support funds, to more than 30 local groups and organizations.

Lanning acknowledged that initial discussions of the 2008 budget included a 30 percent reduction in community support funding.

"We proposed a 30 percent reduction, but it's my belief that this council will take a decisive step, right at the beginning of the session, and restore that money," Lanning said. "And we are prepared to do that."

Lanning said discussing such a reduction was largely intended to "highlight the need for a strong internal focus" in city spending, especially after a Sept. 11 water pipe break that left much of western Steamboat without usable water for two days.

Rec center an unknown

Budget figures could rise dramatically if Steamboat Springs voters in November approve a $34 bond issue to fund a new recreation center at Ski Town Fields.

Approval of the recreation center would impact both sides of the city's budget, adding $34 million to city revenues from the issuance of bonds, and then allocating that amount as a "capital projects" expense.

"If the rec center were to pass in November, that would be huge," Lanning said.

But he added that having such a large unknown in the city's financial plans has not impacted the budgeting process.

"Not at all, because it would all be new money to pay for a rec center," Lanning said. "For us, it's just planning ahead and making sure you have it accounted for - you'll either have it included, or you'll not worry about it at the end of the day. If it was existing money, it would be more difficult."

Quick approval?

The city's 2008 budget includes funding requests from all city departments, including transportation, public safety, planning, and parks, open space and recreational services. The budget also includes proposed capital projects such as $292,000 for continued improvements to snowmaking and lighting facilities at Howelsen Hill.

Tuesday's hearing will allow the City Council to discuss controversial expenses and funding programs, with the goal of agreeing on the entire budget document and preparing an ordinance for City Council approval at upcoming meetings.

Lanning said the City Council already is scheduled to approve the 2008 budget after two public hearings later this month.

That would be a much faster process than a year ago - the City Council approved Steamboat's 2007 budget on Dec. 5, 2006.

Lanning said upcoming City Council elections, in which five seats are on the ballot, spurred the current council to act quickly and not leave a difficult budget approval process for potential newcomers to council.

He also noted that while sales tax revenues have increased this year, the city is not necessarily looking at surplus funds to spend in 2008.

"A 4 percent increase in sales tax barely covers your increases in expenses," Lanning said. "We've gone up in fuel costs and insurance costs. : It's increasingly difficult to keep pace."

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