Steamboat Springs City Council to tackle 2014 budget on Tuesday | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat Springs City Council to tackle 2014 budget on Tuesday

— 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.

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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.

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.

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