City, county readying for cuts
Tightening planned again as 2011 budget season approaches
July 25, 2010
Steamboat Springs — City and county governments are tightening their belts so much they might have to punch some new holes in the straps.
Routt County and Steamboat Springs officials are, again, planning for additional cuts as they get to work on 2011 budgets amid a persistently down economy. After a mid-year report from city Finance Director Deb Hinsvark last week, the Steamboat Springs City Council discussed its outlook for next year and gave general support for a 10 percent reduction of the city's budget, which would mean substantial cuts for a third consecutive year. The city budgeted for an 18 percent decrease in sales tax revenues for 2009, compared to 2008, and for an additional 10 percent drop this year.
"(City Council) told me we need to look at our revenues for next year and expect them to be 10 percent down from this year's actual (revenues, after sales tax figures are finalized), and I don't think I can disagree with that," Hinsvark said last week. "A 10 percent drop from actual is not unreasonable."
The state of the economy in Steamboat is reflected in a few local indicators: rounds of golf at Haymaker Golf Course, skier days at Steamboat Ski Area and ridership on Steamboat Springs Transit buses all declined in 2009 compared to 2008.
County revenues also are continuing to decrease. Routt County Manager Tom Sullivan said last week that the county's $1.2 million in cuts in 2010 likely will be followed by cuts of $800,000 to $1 million in 2011.
County commissioners said that could mean cuts of programs or reductions in services.
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"We've done all the trimming," Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said. "We've already taken the frills out of everything."
County residents could "have to wait a little longer to get their roads plowed" next winter if the economy continues to crawl, Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said.
County officials are not yet talking about laying off employees, all three commissioners and Sullivan asserted.
"Our budget situation is still difficult," Sullivan said. "The opportunity, at this point, is not to lay anybody off this year. … We're not looking at layoffs."
But he added an ominous afterthought.
"We don't know what next year will bring."
Sullivan also said there's "likely not going to be any raises, probably through 2012," for the county's staff, equivalent to about 270 full-time employees.
Monger said county employees have responded very well to a "semi overtime freeze" implemented in January. The freeze has allowed overtime only in "exorbitant circumstances," he said.
"We've had very minimal overtime used," Monger said.
Hinsvark's report included several indicators of decreased economic activity in the area.
Skier days at Steamboat Ski Area declined about 7 percent in 2008-09 compared to 2007-08, she told City Council.
Hinsvark said Steamboat Springs Transit's ridership dropped about 10 percent in 2009 compared to 2008. That could indicate less people visiting Steamboat Springs and using the city's free bus system. Transit Operations Manager Jonathan Flint said city buses carried 1,292,423 passengers in 2008 and 1,175,237 in 2009. This year could dip even further — Flint said in 2009, city buses had carried 784,269 passengers by July 11. Through July 11 this year, he said, buses had carried 678,360 passengers.
The city's Haymaker Golf Course also is seeing a decline in activity.
Hinsvark said the course hosted 26,202 rounds in 2008, compared to 24,346 in 2009.
Luke Brosterhous, Haymaker's head golf professional, said this summer also is showing a dip, of about 15 percent.
"We had kind of a slow start this year because of weather," he said, referring to the wet spring. "We're starting to catch up on numbers, but we're certainly seeing a small percentage decrease this year, right now."
But he said it could be worse — Brosterhous said officials at some Denver-area golf courses have told him they're seeing 15 to 25 percent decreases from 2009.
"We're on the good side of that," he said. "We're looking right in that 15 percent range right now."
Brosterhous said July has had great weather, and he's seeing some signs of a turnaround. Haymaker officials plan to offer specials for players at the end of the season, he said.
Hinsvark also said there are signs of an economic pulse.
"Our revenues are coming in better than budget," Hinsvark told City Council. "We're a little over $500,000 ahead of budget in the first five months of (2010).
"I wouldn't be surprised if we didn't actually see an uptick next year."