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City addresses future needs in budget talks

City Council members on March 16 met with heads of departments and Boulder City’s finance director to discuss the budget for fiscal year 2017.

The first topic was the possibility of the city paying for a Safekey scholarship that helps children who can’t afford the after-school program. Constituents were concerned that children from low-income families wouldn’t have access to the program because the Gaal Group, which operates under the Dan Leach Memorial Fund, isn’t hosting its “Puttin’ Fore the Kids” golf tournament this year and may not donate to the scholarship fund next year.

Council members Duncan McCoy and Peggy Leavitt agreed the council should come up with the $25,000 to $27,000 that the Gaal Group usually provides to ensure all children have a chance to benefit from the program.

Councilman Cam Walker commented that he would like to see specific item lines on the budget updated to reflect actual spending from years past. While City Finance Director Shirley Hughes said she and City Manager David Fraser had worked to reconcile a good portion of the items, some had not been adjusted and showed departments consistently spending less than what they were budgeted over several years.

Mayor Rod Woodbury said he’d like the budget process to start earlier in the future so that council members will have more time to meet with department directors and discuss what projects and expenses take priority.

Hughes said the earlier the process begins, the more “iffy” annual revenue estimates will be.

The budget forecasts $2.4 million to be taken from the city’s general fund and put toward various capital projects in fiscal year 2017. From the utility fund Hughes budgeted $340,000 for vehicle purchases, $500,000 for miscellaneous projects and $250,000 for the city’s landfill expansion.

Among other items discussed at the meeting were a $20,000 lawn mower for the public works department, new software for emergency medical crews at the fire department and the expansion of the Boulder City Municipal Court building to include meeting space for attorneys and clients and a bigger entry way for better security.

The council spent about 1½ hours discussing the general fund portion of the 2017 budget, which Hughes says is about the same as it is every year. Another 40 minutes were dedicated to talking about the utility fund and the potential for raising rates for utility consumers.

Walker asked Hughes and fellow council members whether raising rates for utility customers was necessary because the budget reflected about $2.37 million in depreciation of airport, cemetery and utility systems, which he argued should be addressed in financial statements and not the budget.

“We have to acknowledge depreciation but we don’t have to put money in the bank for it,” Walker said Tuesday. “We have to spend what’s necessary to improve the system.”

He said depreciation costs should be reflected in year-end financial reports rather than in the city’s forecast revenues and expenses for the next fiscal year.

Hughes disagreed, saying, “It is an expense and it does affect the city’s bottom line.”

Hughes also said that while the council doesn’t have to determine the specifics of a new rate structure or when its rollout would be by the next budget meeting, it needs to decide whether utility rate hikes will be part of the 2017 budget before the final version is due at the end of May.

Woodbury said he learned a lot in a face-to-face meeting with Fraser and Hughes and recommended other council members reach out to them on an individual basis to get their questions answered before the next budget talk.

The council will discuss the budget again at its regular April 12 meeting. Hughes said the city needs to send a tentative budget to the Department of Taxation by April 15 and the final budget needs to be approved by May 31.

Contact Kimber Laux at klaux@bouldercityreview.com or 702-586-9401. Find her on Twitter: @lauxkimber

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