Steamboat Springs The Steamboat Springs City Council made the right decision by restoring most of the city's funding to community support groups for 2008. But that isn't to say such funding should continue at current levels.
Last week, City Manager Alan Lanning and interim Finance Director Bob Litzau suggested the city cut about $500,000 from its funding of "community support programs" such as Strings in the Mountains, Seminars at Steamboat and the Steamboat Springs Arts Council, among others. In truth, the $1.5 million the city will spend on such programs in 2008 represents less than 3 percent of its total budget. And we won't argue the importance of such programs and the role they play in our community.
But we're also reminded that such programs are luxuries that may need to be passed over in the presence of more pressing expenditures.
As widespread construction in Steamboat Springs plays out during the next several years - along with a likely annexation of the Steamboat 700 property west of downtown, increased needs for infrastructure components such as sewer lines and road improvements will be coupled with growing strains on city departments such as planning and public works. We saw that firsthand on Sept. 11, when a broken water main at the Bud Werner Memorial Library construction site shut down water to about one-third of the city for two days.
Lanning, who has proposed adding staff to both planning and public works departments for 2008, also has stressed the need for the city to examine its infrastructure needs and spending patterns.
"If you look across the U.S. from the federal level to the local level, our infrastructure in general is in very poor condition," Lanning said last week. "We neglect to address infrastructure needs because they're perhaps not as glamorous as other things."
Neglecting city infrastructure is a cost that can grow exponentially - and suddenly. An Oct. 2 report by the Associated Press indicated the winning bid to replace a Minneapolis bridge that collapsed Aug. 1, killing 13 people, is more than $234 million. On Nov. 6, the city of Denver will ask voters to approve a $150 million bond issue to improve the city's decaying transportation network, which suffered widespread damage after storms last winter.
Lanning also observed last week that while sales tax revenues continue to grow in Steamboat, rising costs for needs such as fuel and employee benefits mean the city is far from sitting on a surplus.
"It's increasingly difficult to keep pace," Lanning said.
After Lanning and Litzau proposed the $500,000 in cuts to community support spending, Lanning acknowledged that the proposal was essentially a warning shot for future discussions.
We agree with Councilman Towny Anderson that it would have been unfair to cut funding for more than 30 community support groups in 2008. If anything, reductions in community support funding should be gradual, allowing time for groups to seek other funding sources, which we believe are available.
As the city looks ahead to next year's budget process, we urge the council to evaluate spending priorities and needs that, if overlooked now, could be far more costly in the future.