Council adopts 2009 budget | SteamboatToday.com

Council adopts 2009 budget

Brandon Gee

The Steamboat Springs City Council has adopted a 2009 budget, but the anxious debate on city finances is far from closed.

The difficult saga – colored by troubled national and local economies – has dominated council’s attention for weeks and is likely to be revisited often in 2009. The split vote Tuesday night on council’s second and final reading of the budget spoke to the uncertainty council members feel toward the document. In a 5-2 decision, council members Loui Antonucci, Scott Myller, Jon Quinn, Steve Ivancie and Walter Magill voted in favor of the $56 million budget. Councilwomen Cari Hermacinski and Meg Bentley voted against it.

The verdict came with promises to develop a contingency plan early next year to make cuts should revenues fail to meet or exceed projections. In January, council will prioritize every single service the city provides. If cuts need to be made, council members said they would start from the bottom and move up. A council meeting already has been scheduled in March, when the city will have a bit of a handle on ski season sales tax receipts, to reopen the budget.

There was little discussion among council about the budget Tuesday, and no members of the sizable Centennial Hall audience spoke up during public comment.

The budget was unchanged from its first reading two weeks ago but has been altered significantly since it was first formally introduced to council early last month. At that time, council members directed about $2 million in cuts in the general, or operating, budget to prevent the use of reserves. Interim City Manager Wendy DuBord and Finance Director Lisa Rolan returned with a balanced budget, but some council members raised new concerns that revenue projections were too optimistic and contemplated even deeper cuts.

With all the economic uncertainty, Magill said he wasn’t sure what could be gained by delaying the adoption of a budget any further. And Ivancie, noting what turned out to be overblown fears of financial collapse in the wake of Sept. 11, said there was no harm in being optimistic now and revisiting the budget later should economic conditions worsen.

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“This is nothing more than one step in the process,” he said.

But Hermacinski said it was more prudent to prepare for the worse and hope things get better.

“The horrible news just keeps rolling in,” she said.

Bentley said she appreciated the hard and painstaking work of city staff but noted that plenty has changed since the 4 percent projected sales tax decrease in 2009 was first contemplated during the summer. Sales tax is the city’s primary source of revenue and is expected to supply 72 percent of general fund revenues in 2009.

“It’s just difficult not to re-examine a moving target,” she said.