Woodland Park City Manager David Buttery must sharpen his budget axe and cut $300,000 or so from the 2017 budget, or find a way to boost the city’s emergency reserves—all within the next 10 days.
A special public workshop last week resulted in one main conclusion from the council: The city is operating with an inadequate reserve fund and is taking too much of a financial risk. Typically, the city tries to have at least a reserve or savings account, equivalent to about 10 percent of its general fund.
But for 2017, the city’s proposed budget has this number plunging to just a little more than $100,000, an amount that has sparked much criticism from former finance director Kellie Case and from civic leaders. This is much lower than previous years.
“I am worried that we find ourselves in a situation that is akin to a phrase a friend recently exclaimed to me while discussing the budget, ‘the roof doesn’t leak as long as it doesn’t rain,’” said Darwin Naccarato, the chairman of the city’s community investment committee, when addressing the council last week. “We know the odds are that it will indeed rain. “
He and other civic leaders are worried about the city’s fiscal state, a situation compounded by the fact that the government is wagering major bets on doing several significant capital projects at the same time.
But how to solve this problem is generating mixed opinions. Several council members, including Val Carr and John Schafer, proposed such measures as imposing a salary freezing, selling off vehicles, forming a peer review board to evaluate expenses for the new aquatic center, cutting certain salaries and more. According to a previous proposal, Carr even suggesting eliminating its newly formed special projects department, an idea that Naccarato and other civic leaders support,
However, several veteran council members believe having this low of a reserve is satisfactory for a one-year occasion. They also noted that the community has heavily supported these capital projects, and this is part of a long-term plan
Mayor Pro Tem Carrol Harvey suggested last week that a few of her peers are hitting the panic button for a funding scenario that had been expected for some time. “We are not in default here,” said Harvey.
She didn’t see a problem with having this low of a reserve for a one-year period. “Sometimes you have to take a risk,” added Councilman Ken Matthews. “We are doing things for the community.”
Other council members didn’t necessarily agree with the ideas proposed by Carr, who submitted a detailed proposal several weeks ago, but they favored the concept of operating with more government efficiency.
Councilman Noel Sawyer lauded the current budget debate, noting that in the past the council just “rubber-stamped” the fiscal blueprint presented by Buttery and the staff. “I am glad we are having this discussion. “This is an opportunity to be more efficient,” said Sawyer. “We need to do a cost analysis.”
That said, he objected to imposing salary freeze. He opposes making the employees suffer because of the actions taken by city officials to do several major capital projects at one time.
Too big of a gamble
The costs of these projects, and especially the aquatic center, are generating concerns among the elected leaders. One of Carr’s main ideas is to form a peer review committee, comprised of certain experts, to try to review and trim the costs and operations for the aquatic center project. Butt Buttery disagrees with this approach, and doesn’t believe this will help.
He believes the current contractors are doing everything they can to cut expenses. “We don’t want to build this (aquatic center) to last until tomorrow,” stated the city manager, who described this as a long-term project. He also sought more details on Carr’s plans for possibly selling off city vehicles, or re-evaluating the government’s current vehicle use policies.
Harvey cautioned her peers that the government would still have an emergency Taxpayer Bill of Rights account to fall back on. This accounts for another several hundred thousand dollars a year.
But this idea prompted much outrage from Case, a consultant for the Downtown Development Authority, who manned the city’s financial ropes for 15 years. “That is inappropriate,” blasted Case.
Following last week’s budget debate, the council agreed that it needs to boost its emergency reserves by possibly another $300,000. But it didn’t reach any conclusions regarding the specifics. “These are tough decisions,” admitted Mayor Neil Levy.
As a result, Buttery faces a tough number crunching task in the next few weeks. The city is scheduled to have a final budget hearing on Dec. 1.
The city is currently proposing general fund expenses of $18.6 million, which represents a significant increase from 2016. Out of this, the city has slated close to $8.5 million in capital projects.