Editorial Board, May 11 through Sept. 21, 2011
- Scott Stanford, general manager
- Brent Boyer, editor
- Tom Ross, reporter
- Laura Schmidt, community representative
- Jim Miller, community representative
Contact the editorial board at 970-871-4221 or editor@SteamboatToday.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.
Steamboat Springs At a time when Congress is debating whether to raise the debt ceiling beyond the $14.3 trillion it already has reached, it’s noteworthy that the city of Steamboat Springs is anticipating a $2 million surplus by the end of the year.
Our city leaders have done what our federal leaders can’t — budget conservatively and keep expenses in line with revenues. The Steamboat Springs City Council’s fiscal prudence should be applauded. But we would urge council not to change course now.
The city is funded almost solely by sales tax, which is more susceptible to economic fluctuations than other taxes. With the moribund economy of the past two years, the city wisely budgeted for a 10 percent reduction in sales taxes in 2010 and another 10 percent reduction in 2011.
It wasn’t easy. Since 2009, the city has reduced staff by more than 16 full-time positions. Other employees have had their work weeks shortened or their pay cut. Community service funding has been cut. Services have been reduced. Projects have been postponed.
Fortunately, revenues have outperformed projections. The city finished 2010 with a 1 percent decline in tax revenue, well below the budgeted 10 percent decrease. And 2011 has started well — sales tax revenues were basically flat in January and February before rising more than 8 percent in March. That has given the city a $657,000 cushion through the first quarter of the year, and if the trend of sales tax revenues being flat or up compared with 2010 continues, the city will finish the year up $2.075 million to budget.
City Finance Director Deb Hinsvark said the projections are solid enough that the city could look again at items that were trimmed from the 2011 budget. Some of those include more than $20,000 for Routt County Search and Rescue, $60,000 for the Yampa Valley Housing Authority, more than $100,000 for bike and pedestrian signage and lane striping, $20,000 for Routt County Riders and $5,000 for the city’s Fourth of July fireworks.
We were glad to see a cautious approach to those allocations Tuesday night, when City Council supported a focus on maintenance costs and operational items, rather than funding requests with less immediate needs.
That caution included tough choices, such as rejecting an allocation of $75,000 for Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association marketing.
We share council’s questions about allocating dollars not yet in the bank.
The city is off to a solid start in 2011, but uncertainties remain. As we’ve noted many times before, unemployment has tripled since 2007 and the housing market continues to slide. Heavy snowfall this winter drove higher snow removal costs and now has the city under a flood advisory. And it’s too early to feel confident that the better-than-expected sales tax performance in the first quarter can be sustained through the end of the year.
The city’s conservative budgeting strategy has served it well, and has given the council a cushion to address urgent needs. But barring an emergency, we would urge the city to continue the course it has charted the past two years.