Steamboat Springs City Council to tackle 2014 budget on Tuesday

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Past Event

Steamboat Springs City Council budget session

  • Tuesday, October 1, 2013, 8 a.m.
  • Centennial Hall, 124 10th St., Steamboat Springs
  • Not available

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— With no citywide service cuts on the table, Steamboat Springs' big budget workshop on Tuesday shouldn't be as contentious as it was last year when dozens of people packed Centennial Hall to oppose some proposed cuts to free bus service.

Instead, the Steamboat City Council is expected for the first time in recent years to spend a lot of time talking about some significant budget enhancements.

They include boosting by 10 percent the amount of community support dollars the city gives to local non-profit groups, bringing 40 of the city's employees back to a 40-hour work week and getting the salaries of several employees up to a market rate.

The city has for several years now sustained furloughs and frozen salaries in response to the economic recession. But as sales tax revenue continues to grow steadily, city staff now is looking at ways it can improve its level of customer service and make employee salaries more competitive.

This year, after consulting with department heads, employees and their constituents, the city has determined it can better serve the community by restoring hours to some employees at the animal shelter and in the city's parks, Howelsen Hill, trails, open space, planning and police records departments.

City Hall would remain closed on Fridays.

The hour enhancements, which would cost about $160,000, would allow the Police Department and Planning Department to increase their office hours and stay open until noon on Fridays.

The 2014 budget also is slated to give some employee groups raises to bring their salaries up to a market rate that was determined by comparing employee compensation here in Steamboat to the pay in other cities comparable to Steamboat.

The survey included such cities as Breckenridge, Louisville and Durango and found several of the city's professional groups were underpaid compared to their counterparts in nearby communities.

Utility workers' pay here was determined to be the most off-market, followed closely by recreation employees.

Thanks to pay raises they received last year, the city's firefighters were the least off market.

How off market are the salaries of Steamboat's city employees?

Percent off marketUtilities Recreation Legal Buildings & grounds Transportation Office & admin Professional & technical Police officersManagementEquipment maintenance Business & finance Highway maintenance FirefightersPercent off market1715.31512108.37.47743.11.71Data from City of Steamboat Springs based on salary survey of 10 other cities

In all, the city is proposing to increase its personnel budget by $661,550 this year.

Other changes contributing to that cost include the addition of new personnel to address the city's extensive stormwater needs and an additional health insurance cost increase of about $200,000.

The proposed budget is not without some proposed cutbacks, however.

Based on a recent analysis of the cost effectiveness of the Howelsen Ice Arena, the city is proposing to scale back some of its hours to make it run more efficiently.

The city also will continue to go without a deputy city manager.

Much of the enhancements to the budget are made possible by a projected gain in sales tax revenue for next year, and this budget season will see a change in how the city budgets that revenue.

In previous years, the city would project the sales tax revenue, and the council would then choose how much of that revenue the city should include in the budget

In 2011, for example, revenue came in about 17 percent above what the city budgeted for because the council intentionally budgeted less than the city was projected to receive.

The city gained millions of dollars in reserves from that style of budgeting, but it also sacrificed by forgoing capital projects and other expenditures.

This year, the council has approved a new economic policy that will have the city spend about 95 percent of its budgeted sales tax revenue on operations, with the rest going to reserves.

For 2014, the projected sales tax budget is $18.7 million, and nearly $1 million of that would go back to reserves. The city's 2013 projected sales tax revenue is $18.2 million.

The all-day budget hearing starts at 8 a.m. with an overview of the entire budget. Much of the morning through noon will be filled with a discussion of the general fund.

At 1 p.m., the council will review a six-year capital improvement program that includes such projects as a new police station and the reconstruction of Central Park Drive.

Public comment will be accepted at 3:15 p.m.

Comments

Scott Wedel 1 year ago

Pay raises to comparable cities are, by definition, biased studies performed by city staff to increase their pay.

The correct measure is comparing pay to comparable local private sector jobs and observing whether employees are leaving government jobs and whether better or less qualified people are applying for city jobs. I note that city's employees wanted webpage has no opening for any city hall jobs.

It is my rough guess that city hall jobs are generally overpaid because those employees rarely leave and are easily replaced. But that other jobs such as those that work with heavy equipment may be underpaid. I'm told of a heavy equipment mechanic whom left to try something else that didn't go as well as hoped, but that the city wasn't able to fill his job in the six months and applied for and got his old job back.

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Harvey Lyon 1 year ago

My guess is most, if not all, of City Council are Democrats and good friends of and voted for Diane Mitsch Bush. The only thing that holds them back is when folks show up at City Hall meetings to ask "why" they have no good answers. As Ron Regan said......these are "Tax and Spend" people that like to "Play the Ritz" with OPM (Other People's Money).

Keep asking "why" Steamboat. Its the only way you'll keep these self serving with your money folks in check.

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John Fielding 1 year ago

There is an endless list of worthy things to spend money on. My sentimental favorite is the Steamboat Symphony, so broke this year that there will be no Christmas concert. The City is one of the big donors, but unfortunately a couple of others have not been able to make large gifts this year. Perhaps the City should step in, save the day, just cost a few tens of thousands.

Then again, it was just a few years ago that the musicians (including my wife) donated their services, and we had regular performances. Somehow that no longer seems to work.

In my opinion this is not a good time to increase spending. There are so many economic uncertainties on the national horizon that could easily impact the flow of tourist dollars we are highly dependent on. The list of critical infrastructure work grows longer as we defer maintenance. The debt for Iron Horse is due.

The financial reserves of the city are increasing, that is a good thing except for the temptation to spend them. And taking in more than we spend does not mean we are spending too little, we are keeping essential services in place at adequate levels. This is effectively a tax increase by budget cutting.

There are a great many people in the community, especially young couples, the elderly on fixed incomes, families, and singles living in roommate houses that really do not have any more to spare, can barely make it on their income. They are not increasing their spending based on projections of an improved economy. The recovery of the economy is slight and fragile, and has not penetrated to the levels of those who live paycheck to paycheck, which includes most Americans. Before we even consider increasing government spending, lets look at tax relief, let those folks keep a little more of their own money and spend it where it will benefit them the most.

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John Fielding 1 year ago

Just a note on the increased spending for storm water management upgrades. The recent heavy rains have caused very little damage. How much more flooding do we need to plan for?

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Scott Wedel 1 year ago

John,

The time of year that is a flooding threat for us is during snow melt. Look at how low the creeks and Yampa River is after these rains compared to what is normal for weeks during snow melt. Thus, the big flooding threat in SB is strong warm rain on top of snow melt. A scenario of rain melting snow during peak snow melt.

Using summer rains to measure our threat of flooding would be dangerously ignorant.

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John Fielding 12 months ago

Sorry Scott, I was referring specifically to stormwater flooding, as it is differentiated from snowmelt. It is clear from the recent devastation on the Front Range that storm flood threats are different from melt water issues. I have seen minor flooding from snowmelt in my neighborhood, it is fairly predictable. The few properties significantly affected are usually able to minimize damage with sandbags and similar efforts, and generally accommodate the seasonal issue by changes to the way they use their property.

Spending large sums to prevent streams from flowing onto their floodplains is not necessarily a wise use of resources and often compounds problems downstream. If we contain flooding of homes on Butcherknife Creek for instance, we may wash out bridges at Pine and Oak streets. It might be less expensive and more effective to buy properties in the floodplain and encourage its natural function.

Regarding extensive upgrades to storm drains, I am reluctant to embrace the expenditures based in part on lack of effectiveness in the actual event. The new drains placed on Crawford and 12th for the college access road have failed to capture the runoff several times recently, sometimes due to the speed of the flow. Other failures have happened because tree branches and similar debris clogged culverts and forced the flow out into the street. This is the latest design standard, it still does not work reliably.

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