Steamboat Springs City Council OKs $250,000 for Howelsen Hill | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat Springs City Council OKs $250,000 for Howelsen Hill

Members approve money to pursue grants for ski hill, delay city staff pay decision

Mike Lawrence

Steamboat Springs resident Linda Kakela watches her visiting grandson Beck, 4, ski at Howelsen Hill on Tuesday with her daughter Annie Kakela, who is holding her daughter Anja, 1. City Council gave final approval Tuesday night to using $250,000 as seed money to pursue several million dollars in grants and donations for improvements at Howelsen.

— City officials are facing a reality many residents experience daily: When money is tight, every spending decision is tougher.

Steamboat Springs City Council took on a series of financial choices Tuesday night in Centennial Hall, and no decision came easily. At the head of the list was whether to allocate $250,000 for one-time performance bonuses for city employees. Ultimately, City Council voted, 4-3, to postpone that decision until August, when the city will have a better picture of its 2010 sales tax revenues and financial situation. But City Council voted unanimously to spend $250,000 on efforts to improve Howelsen Hill and $250,000 more on projects spread across several city departments.

"The debate is not whether (city) staff deserves it," City Council President Cari Her­­mac­inski said about the performance bonuses. "The debate ought to be, should we even be spending it?"

The $750,000 on the table Tues­­day was excess, unallocated general fund revenues from 2009, when the city saw slightly less of a sales tax shortfall than projected. On March 2, City Coun­cil gave initial approval to a plan for that money that included performance bonuses for city staff, who last year were put on a furlough program that cut their pay and hours by 10 percent. Merit and cost-of-living increases were frozen.

Councilman Walter Magill was absent March 2. Hermac­in­ski and Councilman Kenny Reisman voted against the spend­ing plan, which passed with a 4-2 vote.

On the final go-round Tuesday, however, City Council backed away from the bonuses. No one disputed the quality of work of city staff. Instead, the deciding factor was the uncertainty of city finances. Hermacinski said several local business owners have told her they could close their doors after ski season ends next month. A massive re-paving project on Lincoln Avenue through downtown this spring could further affect businesses.

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Magill and Councilwoman Meg Bentley joined Hermacin­ski and Reisman in voting to postpone a decision on the bonuses until City Council's first meeting in August, when spring sales tax revenues are known. Council members Jon Quinn, Jim Engelken and Scott Myller voted for the bonuses.

Assistant Finance Director Bob Litzau said the furlough saves the city about $1 million annually. The city spent about $600,000 annually on its merit pay program before it was cut last year, he said.

Quinn said the one-time bonuses would show gratitude to city staff for taking on the furlough. The city has about 200 permanent, full-time employees.

Reisman weighed that number against the thousands of city residents.

"It's either our city employees or the whole community that we're answering to," Reis­man said.

Hermacinski also questioned the $250,000 allocation for Howel­sen Hill, asking whether it topped all other city needs. City Manager Jon Roberts said the funds will be used as "seed money" to assist fundraising efforts by the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club and grant requests by the city, "in the expectation of generating a total of $3 (million) to $5 million for improvements at Howelsen." This is a unique opportunity, he said, to capitalize on the results of Steamboat athletes in this year's Winter Olympics.

The remaining $250,000 will fund projects including $70,000 for sealing cracks on city roads, $20,000 for firefighter training programs, and $53,000 for Steam­boat Springs Po­­lice Department staffing and training.

The City Council next meets April 6.

In other action

Also Tuesday night, City Council:

■ Voted, 4-3, in support of plans for the Yampa Valley Housing Authority’s down payment assistance program. Jim Engelken, Scott Myller and Walter Magill opposed because the plan allows assistance to homeowners outside of the city and its immediate surroundings, provided they work for an employer within that area. YVHA asset and program manager Mary Alice Page-Allen said the program recently helped a homeowner in Stagecoach and one in Oak Creek.

■ Voted unanimously to approve a new lease for the Steamboat Art Museum. The lease is for 99 years but can be terminated with 36 months notice after two years. The lease states Steamboat Art Museum is liable for interior maintenance of the building, while the city is liable for all major exterior maintenance. The city spent $311,000 on repairs to the building in 2008-09.

■ Voted unanimously to extend a city fee on building permits until Dec. 31, 2012.

■ Thanked Tom Leeson, the city’s outgoing director of planning and community development. Leeson is leaving the job as of April 1 to pursue a graduate degree at the University of Maryland. “It’s been quite a ride in the last nine years, particularly the last five as director,” Leeson said. “I have nothing but fond memories.”

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