Streamlining the budget process, bolstering unrestricted reserves and community support spending will be major focuses for Lisa Rolan, the city of Steamboat Springs' newly hired finance director.
On the job for a week, Rolan said the difference is night and day between Steamboat and the city of Columbia, S.C., her former employer.
"The people and the environment - I think it's great," Rolan said Monday. "Everyone works together to come to a solution. It's just a positive work environment. Everyone's eager to help. Everyone's eager to get you the information you need."
In Columbia, which has an estimated population of 117,394, Rolan described a much more stressful work environment with intense political pressures. Last month, Rolan said she started with Columbia at a time when its finances were in shambles and a city employee had just been caught embezzling. She resigned - with severance pay - from that city in January under unknown circumstances, after 18 months on the job.
"They were going down a path that I felt my integrity, my values and my morals would be compromised," Rolan said. "I couldn't stand by and watch."
Rolan said politics played a big role and that she is ready to put it behind her, but she did not wish to be more specific. She said she left Columbia on good terms and continued to do financial consulting work for the city before landing the job in Steamboat. City Manager Alan Lanning said he knows the circumstances of Rolan's departure from Columbia and that they give him no reservations about hiring her to lead Steamboat's finance department.
"I'm perfectly comfortable," Lanning said Monday.
Rolan said she would like to help Steamboat increase the amount of its unrestricted reserves, which are currently estimated at $3 million, or about 11 percent of the city's general fund. Rolan said a higher number would make her more comfortable, especially given the state of the national economy. "Anything can happen," Rolan said, and Steamboat is particularly vulnerable because 44 percent of its revenue comes from sales tax, which can be a volatile source.
"I'm a firm believer that you need to have healthy reserves," Rolan said. "I think we need to be a little more conservative."
Lanning said he also would like Rolan to improve the way the city's budget is presented.
"A budget to me is you're supposed to be able to open a page and look at a department and see what is being spent and where it's coming from," Lanning said. "Right now you have to go several places. I'd like to streamline the way it's presented."
Lanning and Rolan also talked about changing the way the city allocates its community support spending, which goes to arts, environmental and human resource organizations, among others. Much of the spending is organized into three coalitions with allocation committees, but the Steamboat Springs City Council still ends up being asked to approve requests from individual organizations. Lanning and Rolan would like to see the allocation committees divvy up the money so that City Council is only asked to approve the budgets for each coalition.
"It allows them to evaluate whether an organization is in dire need of city funding," Rolan said. "It allows your citizens to have some community involvement."
"I think the benefit is people who are on the ground are making the determination rather than those of us who are less familiar with what they do," Lanning added.
Community support spending was a hot topic in the adoption of the city's 2008 budget. City staff proposed a 30 percent cut in the spending to bring a larger internal focus to the city's finances, but the City Council restored the funding to a level nearly identical to 2007's $1.6 million allotment.
Rolan fills a position that has been open since former Finance Director Don Taylor was let go in July. Taylor recently was named the new finance director for the city of Aspen, The Aspen Times reported.
Rolan is no stranger to the West, having spent time in places such as Walden and Missoula, Mont.
"My family wanted to come back west," Rolan said. "I wanted to be back in a place where my kids had outdoor opportunities and a place where family values was very high. : I'm an outdoors girl. I love being next to nature."
Rolan's family will join her in Steamboat later this month. She has a 14-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old son.
"I'm very protective of my children," Rolan said. "They are my pride, my joy. They definitely come first in my life."
Rolan and her husband will celebrate their 19th wedding anniversary April 15 - fittingly, tax day.
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