Proposed city budget would see pay increase for city employees
Budget will go before council twice more before it's adopted
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The city of Steamboat Springs’ proposed budget includes pay increases for city staff, a change to the Steamboat Springs Chamber’s destination marketing funding and partial funding for the long-awaited chairlift replacement on Howelsen Hill.
Though Steamboat Springs City Council worked through the nitty-gritty of the budget at a work session Tuesday, it will go before the council twice more at regular meetings and could see revisions before it’s approved.
As he introduced discussion topics at the meeting, City Manager Gary Suiter said the theme of this year’s budget is “cautious optimism,” as nationally there is some uncertainty brewing about the economy. Suiter said the local economy remains strong, though there is some slowing in the real estate, agriculture and energy sectors.
This year, the city budgeted using a forecast that predicts a 3.5% increase in sales tax revenue, from a projected $26.6 million in 2019 to a predicted $27.6 million in 2020.
“We depend significantly on winter tourism, as well as summer tourism, but in particular, winter tourism — that impacts sales tax collections,” Suiter said. “We do have a highly dependent sales tax budget, and that translates into risk. Look up at the sky. When the snow falls, the money comes with it. When it doesn’t, it could be a tough budget year. That translates into risk and, hence, the theme of this year’s budget of cautious optimism.”
City Finance Director Kim Weber said that as a whole, the budget is “pretty stable” with prior years.
“Stability, to me, means being able to provide essentially the same services as we did the prior year,” she said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean at the same cost because costs are going up in all aspects.”
The city’s Finance Department starts working on the budget in May to present it to council in October.
The proposed budget will go before council again for first reading at its Tuesday, Oct. 15, meeting and a second reading in November.
Adding more staff
This year, the proposed budget contains both an increase in personnel and pay for city employees. That includes funding five additional full-time positions: community service officer, a deputy fire marshal, a human resources and risk management coordinator and a project manager for Parks and Recreation. A full-time Yampa Valley Botanic Park manager is also proposed, though this would be funded by an endowed fund, not the city’s general fund.
“I should mention that all of the positions that were requested, the management team felt like there was a huge need for all of those positions,” Weber said. “We talked about all of them. Each of the directors talked about the need. There were no positions that we were like, ‘Oh yeah, that sounds good, but let’s wait till next year.’”
These requested positions were ranked based on the city’s goals, how they would be funded and the need for the position in order to determine what to bring forward for funding.
A number of full-time positions didn’t get proposed for funding under this ranking, including a planner and historic preservation officer in the Planning and Community Development Department, two maintenance employees, one at Howelsen Hill and another serving city facilities and three firefighters.
Among those, City Council expressed interest in finding a way to fund the planning position, which would allow for a reorganization of planning staff to have a dedicated staff member focused on historic preservation projects and another focused on long-range planning efforts, such as implementing the Steamboat Springs Downtown Plan.
Council member Sonja Macys asked council to discuss it as she was concerned the position “didn’t rise to the top as a priority.”
Planning and Community Development Director Rebecca Bessey said, though there are employees qualified to conduct long-range planning on staff, the department lacks historic preservation experience, and even with the expertise they do have, the workload of development reviews planning staff manages “makes it difficult for us to get to those priorities on an ongoing basis.”
City Council decided to possibly pursue funding of the position once voters decide the outcome of November’s property tax ballot measure to fund fire and emergency services. Election results will be in before the budget is planned to go to second reading in November.
Council also directed staff to send a request to the Steamboat Springs School District to share the cost of employing the school resource officer. At the meeting, Police Chief Corey Christensen told the council a recent survey conducted by police chiefs across the state showed Steamboat is the only police department in Colorado that entirely pays for its school resource officer.
Pay increases for city employees
City staff will also see pay increases under the proposed budget.
“We did a market analysis on our personnel, and that showed that our wages, our pay grades, were below the market, so there’s a level of increase needed to stay up with the market in order to recruit and retain employees,” Weber explained.
Administrative and labor trade staff would see a 7.5% increase to adjust to the market, Weber said. Professional and management positions would see a 5% increase.
Sworn police officers and firefighters would see a 3% increase with an additional step increase of 4% to 7% for eligible employees. These public safety employees can qualify for step increases based on training and experience at the department.
Funding for capital projects
The city will fund a total of 34 capital projects over the next six years. Some will receive city funds in 2020, while others won’t kick off for some years.
In 2020, the five projects with the biggest price tag include:
- Paving the parking lot at the Howelsen Rodeo grounds, $2.1 million
- The city paving program, $1.6 million
- A new software system intended for use by multiple city departments, $1.5 million
- Replacing the chair lift at Howelsen Hill, $500,000
- Stabilizing the land at Howelsen Hill, $650,000
While those are the most expensive upcoming projects, the highest priority capital projects under the city’s ranking system are: painting and decking two bridges on the Yampa River Core Trail; rehabilitating the runway at Steamboat Springs Airport; completing a sidewalk along U.S. Highway 40 from West Lincoln Park to Elk River Road; the new software; and replacing the lift at Howelsen Hill.
Changes to the proposed budget
City Council directed staff to make three changes to the proposed budget.
City staff was asked to reduce the proposed contribution to the Steamboat Springs Chamber’s destination marketing funding. The council directed staff to reduce this contribution from its proposed $900,000 to $875,000. That $25,000 reduced from the marketing budget would be allocated to the City Clerk’s Office to cover half the cost of a possible tourism improvement district election, Weber said. The Chamber is exploring this type of special district to fund destination marketing and the area’s air program.
The city also increased a proposed $25,000 contribution to the Yampa River Fund to $50,000, using $25,000 from the utility fund and $25,000 from the general fund. Under a matching challenge grant, the proposed contribution would raise $100,000 for the newly established endowed fund.
The council also shuffled its planned allocations to the Yampa Valley Entrepreneurship Center. At the center’s request, the city’s proposed budget was revised to reduce the city’s contribution to the center’s business plan competition from $6,000 to $3,500 and added a $7,500 contribution to the center’s operations.
To view the City Council’s discussion on this topic, visit steamboatsprings.net/agendas.
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