Our View: Kudos to council for budget move | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Kudos to council for budget move

— Tuesday was a good day for Routt County’s human services, environmental and arts and culture nonprofit organizations, and it couldn’t have come at a more critical time. But as winter edges ever closer and economic forecasts continue to point toward a slow 2010, it’s important that local efforts to provide services to our most needy residents don’t wane.

Those efforts received a significant boost Tuesday, when the Steamboat Springs City Council, during its all-day budget hearing, found a creative way to increase funding for those nonprofit groups. Those organizations typically have received city funding assistance through a budget line item tagged “community support funding.” Community support funding has come under increased scrutiny the past couple of years as sales tax revenues have decreased and city officials have worked to find a balance between allocating funding for essential city services and the small but emotionally charged community support funding line item.

In 2008, for example, the city budgeted $527,000 for local nonprofit groups in the three categories: human resource, arts and culture and environmental. Each category has a volunteer coalition that helps it divide up the lump sum allocation from the city to its member organizations.

In 2009, the funding for nonprofits was slashed to $279,000. City officials had recommended that nonprofit funding be further reduced to $252,000 in 2010.

It’s understandable why city budget leaders proposed an additional cut. The city projects another 10 percent drop in revenues in 2010 – on top of the 18 percent drop expected this year. As such, most city workers will continue to work 36 hours a week next year and continue with a corresponding 10 percent pay cut. Hiring and pay freezes remain in effect, and measures including reductions in firefighter training, a new snowplowing schedule and increased lift ticket and season pass prices at Howelsen Hill are being considered.

This council has proven effective at managing through these difficult economic times. On Tuesday, council members demonstrated they understand the importance of continuing to fund nonprofit organizations, many of which provide essential services in our community, not to mention a significant number of local jobs. Some of the nonprofit groups that receive a portion of community support funding include LIFT-UP of Routt County, Advocates Building Peaceful Communities, Steamboat Mental Health, Partners in Routt County, the Yampa Valley Autism Program and the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.

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Instead of cutting nonprofit funding to the recommended $252,000, the council made a series of budget of moves to boost the funding to $330,000. The boost was primary the result of Councilwoman Cari Hermacinski’s suggestion to fund the city’s $80,000 allocation to the Yampa Valley Housing Authority with money from the city’s community housing fund instead of its general fund. The community housing fund is made up of the money the city collects from developers for affordable housing.

Also worth noting was council members’ unanimous decision to cut their own pay by 10 percent to further free funding for community support spending.

Although we don’t think the city should make a habit of using community housing fund dollars to subsidize the operation of the Housing Authority – that money instead should go toward the creation of affordable housing – it was an appropriate move to make given the dire economic situation and the crucial importance nonprofit groups play in our community.

But efforts to provide assistance to the organizations that in turn provide essential services to our neediest residents can’t end. Also Tuesday, Routt County United Way, through contributions from community members and businesses, raised more than $29,000 during its $10K Day for United Way. The Rotary Club of Steamboat Springs provided a dollar-for-dollar match on the first $5,000 raised Tuesday.

That’s a great start for the United Way’s annual eight-week fundraising campaign, which is under way. But there’s still a long way to go before the umbrella organization that provides funding to 40-plus member agencies hits its goal of $525,000. We urge you to consider donating to Routt County United Way. All donations stay local. Visit http://www.unitedway.org to make a contribution. Any amount will go to help keep your fellow Routt County residents safe, warm, healthy and fed.