Mike Lawrence: Counting our blessings | SteamboatToday.com

Mike Lawrence: Counting our blessings

Budget hearing shows a fortunate, but pricey, Steamboat

— My brain hurts.

It’s like the feeling after taking the SATs, or after watching the Broncos defeat the three-time-world-champion New England Patriots yet again. The hours of sustained concentration are exhausting.

The current headache comes in the aftermath of the City Council’s nine-hour review of the 2007 budget Tuesday in Centennial Hall. The event was a tidal wave of spreadsheets, pie charts and math – never my best subject.

But the headache is bearable because, while trying to stay afloat in the flood of numbers, I learned a simple truth: People who can afford to live in Steamboat Springs are incredibly lucky.

Not one community program has so far been cut outright, or even given a decrease in funding, in the budget deliberations for next year. All of the groups that came forward Tuesday – Emerald City Opera, Steamboat Art Museum, Yampa Valley Recycles, Strings in the Mountains, Steamboat Springs Orchestra, Steamboat Springs Arts Council and the Routt County Extension Office, to name just a few – received at least an additional 5 percent on top of their 2006 budgets.

Check that. The Steamboat Art Museum is a new program, hoping to create a fine arts museum. They asked for $50,000. They got only $30,000.

The biggest cut, if you can call it that, came when the council dropped funding for a proposed $1.5 million youth and teen center. The council dropped that funding to $200,000, which will enable improvements to facilities and programming for after-school programs.

The drop occurred because, earlier in the day, council members approved $250,000 to design and plan a new, $18 million recreation center. The center will need voter approval, possibly in 2007, and would include facilities for youths and teens. Also, city officials are working with the Steamboat Springs School District to collaborate on after-school programs, which could be held in district schools.

Those schools soon could include a brand new, nearly $30 million replacement for Soda Creek Elementary School, pending voter approval Nov. 7.

I realize that is a big “pending.” And the 2007 budget won’t be finalized until next month. But I bet you can see where I’m going.

The money and potential development in this city is amazing.

Approved or in the planning process are multi-use developments such as Wildhorse Meadows, One Steamboat Place, Riverwalk, Fifth and Yampa and more. Community improvements such as a huge expansion of Bud Werner Memorial Library, a new community center and the possible rec center.

Council members approved $50,000 Tuesday to create a plan for improving the already world-class kayak and recreation features on the Yampa River downtown. A five-year plan reserves $7 million for improvements at the base of Steamboat Ski Area.

All these things are made possible, in part, by skyrocketing sales tax revenues, year-round tourism, a thriving real estate market and aggressive pursuit of grant funding.

But most of all, these things are made possible by the people who live here.

Every organization in search of city funding Tuesday had a motivated, energetic group of people behind it. People trying to start a youth orchestra, improve trout habitat along the Yampa River or start an art museum.

I hope those people, or their kids, are able to stick around.

Also in the 2007 budget is $1 million to purchase land for affordable housing.

In the year I’ve lived here, I’ve met many people around my age 29 who had to pack their bags and head for cheaper pastures. I couldn’t help but wonder Tuesday if $1 million is enough. Or where the city might find that land.

Henry Savage spoke to the City Council on behalf of the city’s Art, Culture & Heritage Coalition.

“Once you find Steamboat, you stop looking,” he said.

If you can afford to stay.

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