City faces tough task

DuBord to decide staff, budget cuts

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— At the city of Steamboat Springs' daylong budget hearing Monday, interim City Manager Wendy DuBord and Finance Director Lisa Rolan lamented the unenviable task of possibly firing city employees in the face of declining revenues and an uncertain economy.

"I get the fun job, as your city manager, of deciding who doesn't get a job next year in a declining economy," DuBord glumly remarked.

Others noted the pace with which the bureaucracy has grown in recent years and said it might be appropriate to scale back. From the 2006 budget to the 2008 budget, the city of Steamboat Springs grew from 264.74 full-time equivalents to 305.76, about 15 percent, according to data distributed by the city's finance staff Monday.

"If this government grew that much in that short a time, maybe it's time to cut back," Councilman Scott Myller said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Steamboat's population from July 1, 2005, to July 1, 2007, grew from 9,333 to 9,516, about 2 percent. However, city officials and local developers have said they distrust the Census data as too conservative and think Steamboat has grown much more in recent years and that its true population is closer to 11,000.

Council President Pro-tem Cari Hermacinski said that if Steamboat's building boom in recent years partially is responsible for the growth in city staff, then maybe the city could afford to cut back in departments, such as planning, whose workloads are impacted by the rate of construction. From the 2006 to 2008 budgets, the Department of Planning and Community Development increased from 9.15 full-time equivalents to 15.65, an increase of 71 percent.

In the 2009 proposed budget presented to the Steamboat Springs City Council, personnel costs were projected to make up 60 percent of the city's general, or operating, fund. Council's direction at Monday's hearing was to close a $1.9 million gap between revenues and expenditures to avoid deficit spending next year. DuBord said the move could not be accomplished without layoffs. But on Thursday, the top two council members expressed hope that the city might find other cost-cutting measures that might minimize firings.

Hermacinski said the city is considering furloughs, which basically are unpaid vacations. If each member of city staff agreed to take one week off a year without pay, Hermacinski said, the savings would be in the six figures.

The city also is considering a hiring freeze. DuBord said Monday that there always are about a dozen unfilled positions in the city. The city also wouldn't move forward with the two positions it proposed adding in 2009, one in human resources and the other in information technology. On Thursday, City Council President Loui Antonucci didn't say he would support laying people off in departments influenced by construction, but he did say the city might decide not to refill positions should people in those departments quit.

Antonucci also noted the nonessential facilities the city has built in recent years. Although he described that practice as unsustainable, he also said the facilities have to be maintained and the increase in staff in recent years therefore might be appropriate.

"You can't create infrastructure that is bigger or more expensive than your budget can take care of," Antonucci said. "We weren't thinking about the long-term effects on the budget as we built things. : We have to stop right now and take a look at this and figure out how we're going to do business in the future."

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