Steamboat budgets for additional police, more frequent bus schedule | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat budgets for additional police, more frequent bus schedule

A Steamboat Springs Transit bus travels through downtown Steamboat Springs in 2014. (File photo)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The city of Steamboat Springs has been saving for a rainy day.

The city has accumulated about $10 million to $12 million in general fund reserves, according to data included in the city's budget workshop earlier this month.

With a total budget of about $35 million, City Manager Gary Suiter believes this reserve is significantly more than the city needs to have on hand as a nest egg.

If you go

What: City Council’s second reading of city budget ordinance
When:
 Meeting starts at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13
Where: Citizens' Meeting Room in Centennial Hall, 124 10th St.

If you cannot attend the meeting, you can contact City Council or watch a live video stream of the meeting at SteamboatSprings.net.

For the first time since 2011, the city will use its general fund reserve to pay for capital projects.

"When you start to get reserves that are that fat, it can start to look like we’re hoarding tax dollars and just piling away money, so I was concerned about that," Suiter said. "That’s why I thought it was appropriate to use some of these reserves to help fund our capital projects."

Since 2011, the city's approach to budgeting was to allocate 95 percent of city sales tax revenue to operations and place 5 percent in reserves for capital projects. This year, the city will allocate all of its sales tax revenue to operations.

Had this year's budget not seen a shift to using the general fund reserve to cover capital projects, Suiter said services would have been cut.

"It served its purpose," Suiter said of the historic policy. "We accumulated significant reserves. … I was concerned about cutting services that would significantly impact the citizens and visitors and Steamboat Springs and, at the same time, having very healthy reserves."

The goal of the budget, Suiter explained to Steamboat Springs City Council at an Oct. 2 budget retreat, is to maintain a superior level of service.

"I want to be completely honest with you that sometimes staff — we struggle when we read this," said City Finance Director Kim Weber. "We have got to provide superior services, but with the resource allocation, sometimes, not everyone feels like we are able to provide those superior services."

Transit

One example Weber used to illustrate the city's less-than-superior level of service was the change in Steamboat's night-line bus schedule in 2017. Starting in winter 2017, nighttime buses arrived at stops every 30 minutes instead of every 20 minutes. The change was projected to save the city $50,000 in operating costs, but staff also believe it's the leading cause of a 10 percent decrease in ridership on Steamboat Springs Transit buses overall.

The 2019 budget aims to remedy that hit in ridership by returning the city's night-line route to a 20-minute schedule.

The city transit department will also receive a full-time information technology staff member who will maintain the computer systems on hybrid buses and Routematch, the city's bus tracking application, among other programs.

Public safety

The 2019 budget, if approved, would fund the hiring of three more law enforcement officers — a police sergeant and two officers. Steamboat Springs Police Department would also receive an additional patrol vehicle.

The agency requested funds to hire two sergeants and two patrol officers, but for each additional police officer, the city must purchase a new vehicle. The city held off on budgeting for an additional sergeant and patrol vehicle.

"Having adequate personnel and staffing our police and fire departments is critical," Suiter said.

Past budgets have allowed the public safety departments to be competitive in pay, which helps retain staff in a police department, Suiter added.

The 2019 budget also reorganizes some Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue positions. Part-time positions that equate to the hours and cost of three full-time employees will be converted into three full-time positions. Two staff members will be firefighters and emergency medical technicians, and one will receive the more advanced paramedic certification.

Steamboat Fire Rescue also requested training, advertising, protective clothing and some equipment, which remain unfunded.

Information technology

In the coming year, the city is budgeting for two major software overhauls.

One would replace the city's financial software, which would include utility billing software. Suiter said the program the city is currently using is out of date, sometimes forcing staff to complete other tasks as they wait for the computer to load for 10 minutes or more at a time. An IT specialist will be hired to help select and implement the program, which Suiter said is more affordable than contracting the work.

The second is a new program for the Planning and Community Development Department, which the city is working to implement in collaboration with Routt County. The new software will allow applicants for building permits and other planning and zoning approvals to track the status of their application.

The new programs would also help the city go paperless, Suiter said.

Another, general IT analyst will be brought on as the city works to maintain digital and computer equipment — everything from a staff member's phone to police officer's mobile data units.

The budget also allows for additional spending on cybersecurity. Suiter said it is important to ensure the city's software is running efficiently and protected from attacks.

In December 2017, the city's OnBase software was hacked, which caused months of issues in public access to city agendas, meeting minutes and ordinances.

Unfunded requests

The change in budget philosophy this year allowed for a smaller list of unfunded budget requests, Weber said.

Among those cuts are the following savings, which total about $560,000.

• Public Works has about $54,000 in unfunded budget requests. The streets division removed some additional radios from its budget proposal. Steamboat Springs Transit will put off wrapping the regional bus that replaced one involved in an accident, and some part-time, seasonal employees were removed from the Steamboat Springs Airport budget.

• Public Safety has about $194,000 in unfunded budget requests for the aforementioned unfunded police sergeant, patrol vehicle, firefighter training and equipment.

• General government has about $230,000 in unfunded requests, including $75,000 in the city manager's budget for donations and sponsorships to non-profits for special events and elimination of the city's software used to organize contracts.

• Planning and Community Development has $1,200 in unfunded requests, which include some professional memberships and cuts to the department's budget for travel.

• Intergovernmental Services has $41,000 in unfunded requests, as the community survey, which is usually conducted every two years, was postponed to 2020.

Readers can view the city’s budget discussion at docs.steamboatsprings.net:10100/OnBaseAgendaOnline/Meetings/ViewMeeting?id=721&doctype=1. The budget will undergo a second reading, which would be final approval, at City Council’s Nov. 13 meeting.

To reach Eleanor Hasenbeck, call 970-871-4210, email ehasenbeck@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @elHasenbeck.

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