Steamboat Springs City Council approves $39M spending plan for 2021
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – After being presented with four budget scenarios, the Steamboat Springs City Council approved a $39.4 million general fund budget, an amount council members agreed was conservative but optimistic.
Steamboat expects to finish 2020 with about $2.5 million left out of last year’s $43 million spending plan. Kim Weber, city finance director, attributed this to departmental expense reductions and a higher level of sales tax revenue than the city anticipated when COVID-19 first hit the community.
The overall city budget, totaling $71,572,104, is split between city departments with $39,441,146 in the general fund, $16,277,893 for capital projects, $1,375,539 for fleet services, $10,394,743 for utilities, $1,508,784 for the airport, $1,812,499 for the golf course, $56,500 for community housing, $45,000 for fire and emergency medical services and $660,000 in the accommodations tax fund.
In addition to expected sales tax revenue of $24,717,940 in 2021, city staff anticipates generating $75,938 from licensing and permits, $2,681,645 from intergovernmental revenue, $3,098,063 from charges for services, $76,600 from fines and forfeits and $1,299,130 from other revenue.
City employees who had their hours cut earlier in the pandemic have been brought back to full time, adding about $1.3 million in expenditures for 2021.
In addition to staff returning to their full-time salaries, City Council increased the originally proposed budget to include $20,350 for Routt County Search and Rescue funding, $25,000 for the Yampa River Fund and $30,000 to hire a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant to conduct an audit.
As for capital projects, the city budgeted $4,743,107 for a central fire station, $1,400,000 for a Howelsen Hill Ice Arena locker room and recreation program and $255,000 for playground equipment.
All council members agreed COVID-19 needed to be at the forefront of the budget conversation, as scientists expect the pandemic to continue well into 2021 before a vaccine is widely distributed.
“We’re basically forecasting the worst winter with the worst amount of reduction we’ve ever seen,” said Jason Lacy, City Council president.
When council members revisited the updated 2020 budget in October, they discovered that sales tax revenue in Steamboat was higher than anticipated, leaving the council with some extra funding. Council members said they believed the 2021 proposed budget was conservative enough while ensuring city departments had the support they needed to operate.
“I fear that we’re going to be budgeting so far below that all of a sudden we’re handcuffing our department heads and then we find out we have extra money,” said council member Michael Buccino, when other members expressed a desire for a more conservative budget.
As Routt County’s COVID-19 cases continue to climb, some members expressed concern the county would be placed under the purple — most severe — level of restriction, driving tourists away for the winter season, despite Gov. Jared Polis’ promise not to close ski resorts.
“I personally don’t think it’s looking very hopeful, and I would rather stay conservative than not,” said council member Heather Sloop. “Being in purple with the ski area open would mean that nobody can travel and nothing is open.”
“Even if we get into the purple zone and we’re completely shut down, we’ll still have delivery of food and pickup of retail,” council member Lisel Petis countered. “People have adjusted, they’ve learned how to do this now and it won’t be the same shut down as before.”
While the summer months produced more sales tax revenue than anticipated, Weber said the summer and winter will not be comparable because Routt County’s COVID-19 numbers were much lower in the summer.
“My good prediction is still 40% down in our tourism-type industries — that’s on the positive side,” she said. “On the negative side is 60% down. I’m hoping we’ll be closer to the 40% down, but I don’t think we’ll see numbers even close to what we saw for the summer.”
Summer sales tax income helped buffer the city’s reserves budget, treated as a rainy-day fund, Weber said.
The council agreed to reevaluate the budget monthly as the city receives new reports of sales tax income and the county’s COVID-19 cases continue to fluctuate.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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