Council restores funds | SteamboatToday.com

Council restores funds

Proposed community support programs cuts rejected, spark discussion

Brandon Gee

Steamboat Springs City Council member Loui Antonucci listens to a lengthy budget discussion during a meeting at Centennial Hall in Steamboat Springs on Tuesday afternoon. The Council on Tuesday overturned a proposal to cut funding for community support programs in the proposed 2008 city budget, restoring about $500,000 to organizations such as Yampa Valley Housing Authority and Seminars at Steamboat. The proposed budget still must go through first and second readings with the Council before adoption by the end of the year.

— City officials Tuesday pledged funding for community support programs, overturning an initial proposal that could have meant massive budget cuts to organizations such as the Yampa Valley Housing Authority and Seminars at Steamboat.

The Steamboat Springs City Council, as expected, restored about $500,000 of funding to community support programs, during an all-day discussion of the 2008 city budget at Centennial Hall. While Tuesday’s discussion set parameters for how the city will allocate more than $50 million in 2008 – not including a proposed $34 million recreation center that is up for voter approval in November – the entire budget still must go through first and second readings with the City Council before adoption by the end of the year.

While a relatively small part of city spending, community support funding is a personal issue for many Steamboat Springs residents. City Manager Alan Lanning and interim Finance Director Bob Litzau submitted a proposed budget that cut community support spending by more than 30 percent. When it was all said and done, however, the City Council restored funding to a level nearly identical to 2007’s $1.6 million allotment.

Litzau said the goal of decreasing community support funding in the proposed budget was “to bring a larger internal focus to the budget process this year.” On Monday, Lanning said projects such as water lines, sewer lines, buses and streets all deserve more attention, as evidenced by a Sept. 11 water line break that left much of the west side of Steamboat without water service.

While the initial motion was to fund all community support programs at the levels they requested, City Council did not write a blank check. The council rejected a request from the Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp for $10,000 to help fund a 95th anniversary celebration – after Litzau noted that the school has unrestricted reserves of $2.6 million.

City Council also curbed some organizations’ requests when they asked for funding well above their 2007 level. The Free Summer Concert Series, for example, received $33,000 in 2007 and requested $45,000 for 2008. Council approved only $40,000.

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Councilman Loui Antonucci said increases in funding are appropriate because the cost of doing business goes up, but noted that the city holds itself to a 5 or 6 percent growth in spending and should expect the same from the organizations it supports.

Councilman Towny Anderson said one reason he opposed Lanning and Litzau’s proposed cuts was because they were unexpected and would put organizations in a difficult situation.

“This came as a surprise, not just to us, but to everyone in the room,” Councilman Towny Anderson said.

Antonucci agreed.

“This year wasn’t a good year to cut back because we’re blindsiding people,” he said.

Lanning and Litzau’s statement wasn’t totally lost on council members, however. Ideas for improving the budget process in regard to community support spending were discussed. Councilman Paul Strong suggested the city set total community support spending as a percentage of the general fund, which would provide a firm number to work with and allow community support spending to rise and fall with the financial fortunes of the city.

“We need to take the amount of money we’re spending more seriously,” Council President Susan Dellinger said. “This is nuts.”

Dellinger said programs could survive without such large subsidies from the city.

“If it’s a value to the community, the community will support it,” Dellinger said.

Lanning seemed pleased with the effect his proposal had on council members.

“Our goal was intended to invoke this very conversation,” Lanning said.

Other budget highlights include the proposed addition of six new city employees, three each for the public works and planning departments. The increased difficulty of finding quality employees is reflected in the city’s human resources budget, which proposes an additional $120,000 for recruitment. City staff members are also proposing $25,000 to replace a city vehicle in the Deputy City Manager’s department with a 2008 Ford Escape Hybrid.