Steamboat City Council increases budget after higher winter tourism numbers
As COVID-19 vaccination doses continue to increase and restrictions have been lifted for more than a month, Steamboat Springs City Council updated its budget to reflect the city’s increases in sales tax revenue and help city programs and staff return to standard levels of service.
Council members approved the new budget in a 6-1 vote, with council member Heather Sloop voting against it.
“There are very minuscule things that people need just to get their jobs done,” council member Sonja Macys said of the budget updates.
When City Council first passed its 2021 budget, it did so using conservative estimates of how much sales tax revenue would be brought in based on COVID-19 restrictions at the time, but agreed to revisit the budget once winter tourism season ended. Because of council’s budget cuts, city staff had to cut certain services, which council member Lisel Petis said hurt the community.
Budget cuts came from each of the city’s nine departments, with the parks and recreation and public works departments facing the highest cuts.
In Tuesday’s discussion, city staff proposed adding $979,144 back into the budget to supplement a long list of items, including computers and software, training for staff, and protective gear for police and fire rescue. In addition to the items city staff originally suggested, council members also voted to reinstate snacks and meals for boards and commissions.
Council member Kathi Meyer also suggested reinstating funds to maintain the landscape on the city’s medians. Several council members agreed, but Parks and Recreation Director Angela Cosby said taking care of the weeds would cost about $100,000. Cosby said the department would approve overtime pay for anyone interested, but that staff members are already working overtime on other projects due to the department being severely understaffed. City Council ultimately decided against putting weed care into the new budget.
The city has so far exceeded its sales tax revenue projections by almost $2.3 million. City Finance Director Kim Weber said if council predicts 2021 summer sales tax to be similar to 2020, the city would still exceed its projections by $4 million dollars, and summer tourism numbers show the city is expected to see higher numbers than last year.
“This in no way gets us back to where we would have been if this were a normal year,” Weber said, adding the predictions are still conservative.
Sloop, the one council member to vote against the new budget, said she did so because she felt not all of the items proposed in staff’s suggestions were absolutely necessary. Specifically, Sloop pointed to conferences, which are often free but require funding for travel, lodging and meals.
“It’s perspective and it’s what the public sees,” Sloop said. “If we’re allowing people to go to conferences and pay for meals and lodging, we’re asking our community to pay for that.”
Council members Robin Crossan and Macys said sending staff and council members to conferences was important because they serve as a return to normalcy.
“I think we need to get back to as best a sense of normal as we can,” Crossan said. “We have put training and seminars and development on hold for over a year, and maybe we don’t send five people we send two.”
Council will revisit the budget each month going forward and can make additional changes at any time.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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