Boulder City Council late Tuesday night opted to increase funding for the arts, Housing and Human Services, the fire department and its library system after dozens of residents expressed concerns about proposed cuts in the first of two public hearings scheduled by the city.
The $341.2 million proposed budget reflects the continued challenges facing the city caused by the economic downturn from the coronavirus pandemic. Broken down, that includes $271.7 million in Boulder’s operating budget and $69.4 million in its capital budget.
During its first budget reading on Tuesday, Boulder decided to reduce its reserves by $560,000 in order to add $200,000 for Housing and Human Services, $160,000 for Boulder Fire-Rescue and $100,000 apiece for arts and library funding.
The proposed 2021 budget includes $28.5 million in reductions, marking a 7.7% decrease from the approved 2020 budget. The economic crisis affected most of Boulder’s revenue sources, including an expected 11% decline in revenue from sales and use taxes, the biggest source of revenue for Boulder.
Many Boulder residents who spoke during Tuesday’s public hearing said they were frustrated with the proposed cuts to the city’s Housing and Human Services Department in a year when homelessness is on the rise.
To accomplish the cuts, Housing and Human Services Director Kirk Firnhaber said his department prioritized food security, health care, safety and housing. Programs that do not fall into those “critical criteria” will either be eliminated or reduced, Firnhaber said. The department also saved some $100,000 by closing its 30th Street homeless shelter, a decision admonished by several during public comment.
City staff stressed the challenges it’s faced while preparing the budget and noted that it hasn’t been a typical year. In developing the budget, Boulder uses its sustainability and resilience framework, which prioritizes seven categories, including environmental sustainability, safety and accessibility.
“When we prepared the 2021 budget, we did not take an across-the-board strategy,” Chief Financial Officer Cheryl Pattelli said, adding that the staff took Boulder’s priorities into account.
The proposed budget includes cuts to programs, services and jobs, along with furloughs for most employees and no merit pay increases for nonunion city employees, members of the Boulder Municipal Employees Association and members of the International Association of Firefighters.
Emergency personnel will not be furloughed and members of the Boulder Police Officer’s Association will be the only employees to receive a raise because of a contract that mandates it.
Arts grant funding
It’s been a challenging year for Melissa Fathman, executive director of Boulder’s Dairy Arts Center. Fathman told Boulder City Council she’s experiencing an 85% reduction in revenue because of the pandemic, and she’s indefinitely furloughed 27 employees.
The 17% proposed cuts to arts grant funding will be detrimental for Fathman’s organization in a year that’s already been tough.
“I urge you to consider making cuts to the arts a little less severe,” she said.
City Manager Jane Brautigam said she sees it differently. Though the cuts aren’t ideal, she said the almost $770,000 that was originally allocated is a lot of money.
“It’s unfortunate that we’ve had to reduce it, but this is one of the items that we needed to do to make the budget balance this year,” she said.
After quite a bit of discussion, however, Boulder City Council opted to pad that amount with an additional $100,000.
“When we think of the arts, it serves people across the community, people of multiple income brackets,” Councilmember Junie Joseph said. “It’s real equity issue to not fund the arts.”
Several projects continuing
While each department is facing reductions, the city is continuing to plan for several projects. One such project allocates $1.7 million for the Fourmile Canyon Creek multiuse underpass at 19th Street, which will improve safety and accessibility to Crest View Elementary School and create additional flood capacity under the roadway.
Additionally, Boulder is proposing an almost $6.5 million new facility at the Flatirons Golf Course. The former facility was so badly damaged by the 2013 floods that it was demolished, according to Parks and Recreation Director Ali Rhodes in a September budget study session. Since then, there has been a trailer for bathrooms at the golf course. There was some initial hesitation about this project, but Boulder City Council ultimately agreed to move forward with it.
Boulder also has allocated $668 million across the six years of its capital improvement program. In the budget, city officials note that this funding covers projects and ongoing needs and that the numbers can fluctuate based on funding availability and project timing.
A second hearing will be Oct. 20.
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