Proposed cuts raise eyebrows | SteamboatToday.com

Proposed cuts raise eyebrows

Council will weigh infrastructure against community programs

Brandon Gee

Vehicles line up at a stop light shortly before 5 p.m. Monday at U.S. Highway 40 and Elk River Road. The Steamboat Springs City Council will discuss the city's budget tonight. It calls for saving additional money for infrastructure improvements, such as re-striping Highway 40 with four lanes to help alleviate congestion.

— Sending the statement that Steamboat Springs’ infrastructure should be given a higher priority when compared to community support programs, City Manager Alan Lanning has proposed a 2008 budget that would cut community support spending by more than 30 percent.

Community support spending goes toward events such as July Fourth fireworks and organizations such as Yampa Valley Recycles and the Steamboat Springs Arts Council. The 2008 budget will be discussed today during an all-day meeting of the Steamboat Springs City Council. Public comment will be allowed at 2 p.m.

Despite the proposed cuts, Lanning has indicated that he expects City Council to restore funding to the community support programs early on in the process.

“It’s a proposed budget, and it can easily be changed by the City Council (today),” Lanning said Monday.

Although City Council may not follow Lanning’s proposal to cut community support spending, City Council President Susan Dellinger said she agrees that the city should develop more of an internal focus for its spending.

“We have a lot of big projects that we need to save money for,” Dellinger said. “We have to move away from something, and it can’t be personnel or insurance. It has to be something more flexible.”

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Lanning said projects such as water lines, sewer lines, buses and streets all deserve more attention. He said the city expended “untold resources” dealing with a Sept. 11 water line break that left much of west Steamboat without water service. Such a situation could be avoided with improved infrastructure, Lanning said.

“Had we had a redundant system, we would have been in a much better position,” Lanning said.

Others are balking at Lanning’s proposed shift in focus and believe community support programs have community character value beyond the bottom line.

“I think it would be a disgrace and would be extraordinarily destructive to the nature of the community if that budget passed,” said Marion Kahn, executive director of the Steamboat Springs Arts Council.

City staff’s proposed budget would cut the Arts Council’s allotment from $42,000 in 2007 to $0 in 2008.

“There would be a number of organizations that would have to close their doors if this budget were approved,” Kahn said. “You would lose a lot of what it means to be a citizen of Steamboat Springs, Colorado.”

Lanning disagreed that programs would be imperiled as a result of his proposed cuts.

“I don’t believe any programs will be put in jeopardy, and that’s not the intent,” he said.

City Councilman Ken Brenner said the proposed cuts are the largest single-year decreases he has seen in his years on City Council. He feels the proposed cuts present too drastic a change for the organizations affected.

“I can’t support that,” Brenner said. “Generally, if we’re going to make a significant change … we need to be announcing that way in advance and slowly weaning them.”

If the budget were to be approved as proposed, which is not expected, Lanning said the money being taken from community support programs would be directed toward the budget in general to fund operations. Lanning said his proposal is bound to be unpopular because residents are naturally less passionate about something like a new sewer line when compared to programs such as the Free Summer Concert Series.

“I think in general if you look across the U.S. from the federal level to the local level, our infrastructure in general is in very poor condition,” Lanning said. “We neglect to address infrastructure needs because they’re perhaps not as glamorous as other things.”

– To reach Brandon Gee, call 871-4210

or e-mail bgee@steamboatpilot.com

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