Steamboat’s 2023 budget a ‘balancing act’
Each year, Steamboat Springs city officials assign a theme to the annual budget.
This year, the theme is “balancing act,” or “yin and yang,” as City Manager Gary Suiter described it during his opening remarks at City Council’s budget retreat on Tuesday, Oct. 4.
“We’ve all faced the challenges the past couple of years have thrown at us,” Suiter said. “It has forced us to be more creative, more efficient and adaptable.”
Crafting the budget forced some difficult decisions. Sales tax revenue is up about 21% compared to last year. However, this year’s tax collections have been buoyed by construction projects, and city officials are forecasting a 4% decrease in sales tax revenue and budgeting for $34.7 million next year.
“With our recent budget surpluses, we have the money to keep our wages competitive, address some of the city’s deferred maintenance, maintain most service levels and add some new programs,” Suiter explained.
In April, City Council approved a 6% across-the-board pay increase for city staff, which was done after researching wages in similar municipalities. Suiter also said the surpluses have helped the city underwrite the new fire station and city hall planned for downtown.
But as part of the balancing act for this year’s budget, city officials also tried to account for economic uncertainty on the horizon. High inflation, supply chain challenges and the employee housing crisis are only some of the factors hampering municipalities across the U.S.
“Fuel, oil, motor vehicle parts, fertilizer, all of that stuff — huge increases in cost,” Steamboat Springs Finance Director Kim Weber said.
As a result, city staff proposed about $1.8 million in spending cuts, broken down between 105 different line items. The largest was a $500,000 reduction in pay plan contingencies, which city staff said they would continue to analyze to determine the amount needed for 2024.
Most of the other adjustments were around $10,000 and involved deferring projects and maintenance, reducing staff bonuses, cutting travel expenses or postponing equipment purchases, among other measures.
“Our service levels remained intact even though we’re projecting revenue reductions,” Suiter said. “In some of those service levels, they’re going to depend upon recruitment and retention, so they still could be impacted.”
The Steamboat Springs Transit Department, for example, has enough money in its personnel budget to offer service in 15-minute intervals on its main bus line, but the department is still working to fill four open driver positions to make that possible.
Across all of the city’s departments, an additional 25.7 full-time equivalents were proposed. A full-time equivalent, or FTE, is a measurement used to describe labor hours in relation to a full-time position. The city’s staff requested the equivalent of 25.7 full-time jobs in terms of hours, but those could be spread out across a number of part-time, seasonal or full-time positions.
Only 14.2 FTEs were included in the budget given to council Tuesday. Among them were changing a video production specialist from part time to full time, adding seasonal employees for snow tubing at Howelsen Hill, adding seasonal trails and open space maintenance workers, and adding a maintenance worker for the rodeo.
The Steamboat Springs Police Department’s proposed budget also pitched reconstructing two FTEs worth of seasonal community services officers and river rangers, with those duties being absorbed by a new full-time year-round community services officer, and an animal control and community services supervisor.
“Right now, we’re not in a position to really dedicate people to the core trail, the river or some of the other trails that we have in the city,” Police Chief Sherry Burlingame told council members on Tuesday.
Burlingame added that she hopes the new positions will help the department provide community education and relieve police officers from taking calls that could otherwise be handled by a community services officer.
The police department originally requested $10,000 for two e-bikes to help patrol trails and the Yampa River, but that request was one of the 150 line-items removed from the budget presented to council.
However, council members favored Burlingame’s proposal and recommended adding an additional full-time community service officer and putting the two e-bikes back on the budget.
City Council President Robin Crossan liked the idea of using another community service officer to help supplement the destination management efforts by the Steamboat Chamber, designed to help educate visitors on responsible tourism.
The Steamboat Chamber’s overall budget took a hit in the discussions, though, going from $700,000 budgeted in 2022 to a majority of council members favoring giving the chamber $500,000 for 2023.
In all, City Council recommended five changes to the city staff’s proposed budget.
Council members recommended adding an additional community services officer, purchasing two e-bikes, reducing the chamber’s funding from last year, and adding another $10,000 to the free summer concert series budget totaling $50,000 for next year.
City Council also recommended adding $235,000 to the capital projects fund to pay for drawings for the Stone Lane Bridge project, which would connect Whistler Road to U.S. Highway 40 via a bridge on Stone Lane.
In all, the city’s proposed budget amounted to $121.7 million in expenditures, 42% of which would be devoted to purchasing, maintaining, upgrading and repairing capital assets, while 31% would be devoted to personnel costs.
City staff estimate that at the end of 2023, the city’s general fund will have about $17.5 million in reserves with about $2.5 million restricted. The city’s fiscal policy instructs council to leave at least 25% of the previous year’s expenditures in a “rainy day fund,” which is expected to be about $9.5 million in 2023.
The city is scheduled to continue discussions during the first reading of the budget ordinance on Oct. 18, where public comment will be accepted. At the upcoming meeting, council members are also expected to continue discussions regarding chamber funding and revisit a request from the Routt County Economic Partnership.
To reach Spencer Powell, call 970-871-4229 or email him at spowell@SteamboatPilot.com
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