Our View: A lot to like about 2012 city budget | SteamboatToday.com

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Our View: A lot to like about 2012 city budget

The proposed 2012 budget for the city of Steamboat Springs presents a reasoned approach to meeting the demands of providing core government services while also helping to fund ancillary services that make Steamboat a great place to live and visit. But there are areas of the budget that cause us concern and merit further attention from city officials.

First, the good.

The city, led by its department directors, finance director, city manager, deputy city manager and Steamboat Springs City Council, continues to successfully navigate through one of the most difficult economic periods this country has ever seen. Conservative revenue estimates and slashed expenses have not dramatically affected city services during the past couple of years, and we expect the same for 2012.

Next year, the city plans to provide a 1.5 percent cost-of-living bonus to its employees. These are the same employees who were subject to mandatory (and ongoing) furloughs a couple of years ago when the bottom fell out of the local economy. Despite a 10 percent reduction in hours, and a corresponding reduction in hours of operation for many city departments, the impact to residents has been minimal. That's a real credit to city staff, and we think the $250,000 one-time bonus is appropriate in 2012.

Some of the more substantial service cuts in 2012 are being absorbed by the Steamboat Springs Transit and Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services departments. Steamboat Springs Transit is moving back the start of winter bus service to coincide with the start of winter air service to Yampa Valley Regional Airport. That makes sense. The Parks and Recreation Department is reducing the operating hours at Howelsen Hill and eliminating the annual Easter egg hunt, city holiday party and the hanging flower baskets along Lincoln Avenue downtown.

That doesn't mean all of them will go away, nor should they. Expenditures like the flower baskets and barrels are extremely important to our image as a worthwhile place to visit and spend money. Therefore, one of the most promising things we heard during the budget hearing Tuesday was that the city will explore public-private partnerships with local groups and businesses to maintain some of those services that are on the chopping block. But better than simply explore them, the city needs to find a way to make them work. An absence of flower baskets and barrels downtown next summer isn't acceptable. The flower baskets combined with the flower barrels are already a public-private partnership where the businesses in town pick up the larger cost of the barrels and the city pays for the baskets and the cost to water both of them.

While flower baskets and barrels add only a couple thousand dollars to the city's budget, Howelsen Hill represents a much more significant percentage of Steamboat's overall expenditures. The city-owned ski area and park facility operates at an annual loss of between $750,000 and $1 million, depending on the year. Howelsen Hill is a sacred cow in the community, but it's time to figure out how to get it in the black. During Tuesday's all-day budget hearing, officials expressed willingness to address the significant annual subsidization of Howelsen Hill. Perhaps the answer comes in the form of a public-private partnership as envisioned for other previously city-funded services. But whatever the answer, it must come. The city, which has proven itself capable of making difficult budget decisions, cannot afford to continue to subsidize Howelsen Hill.