Aspen residents brace for service cuts |

Aspen residents brace for service cuts

ASPEN, Colorado ” As city officials prepare to slash their budgets and cut public services, Aspen residents and organizations are bracing for the impacts.

Residents and representatives from various organizations are expected to turn out in droves for a Feb. 10 meeting with the Aspen City Council to hear city department heads make presentations about how each will reduce their budgets by 10 percent.

Aspen Chamber Resort Association President and CEO Debbie Braun told her board Tuesday that the organization’s 2009 marketing budget, which is funded by the city, is in jeopardy.

“I’ve been in contact with the city finance staff, and there is a potential to see a decrease in that funding,” she said.

Braun said city financiers told her they are projecting a 25 to 30 percent decrease in the 1 percent lodging tax, of which ACRA receives half the revenues. “If that’s the case it just wiped out our entire advertising budget,” she said.

She asked board members to attend next month’s meeting to help convince city officials to keep the $615,000 budget intact.

City Councilman Jack Johnson, who attended the ACRA board meeting, said he supports the ACRA funding but isn’t sure to what degree the council can keep its commitment.

“We are getting a stream of e-mails that ask don’t cut this, don’t cut that,” he told the board about requests from citizens trying to protect their services.

Also expected at the Feb. 10 meeting is a contingency of hockey players and other groups who use the Aspen Ice Garden. It’s expected that a proposal from the city’s recreation department will be floated past the council that asks that the facility be shut down between April and September as a cost-savings measure. The closure is expected to save $200,000.

City officials are revising their previous assumptions that sales tax revenue will remain flat in 2009, as it has become apparent that Aspen is far from recession proof.

Financiers in City Hall this past fall budgeted for a 1 percent increase in sales tax revenue. A month later, in November, the Aspen City Council agreed to budget for a zero increase.

But after watching the economy and consumer confidence spiral further, the picture is looking more grim. Now, the sales tax revenue forecast could be down 10 to 15 percent.

When the 2009 budget was set last fall, department heads were asked to cut 5 percent from their budgets. But with the economic forecast looking more bleak than previously anticipated, they were asked to shave another 10 percent.

And whether city employees get 3 percent raises this year also is up for consideration.

Officials are waiting for December sales tax revenue numbers to gauge how severe 2009 cuts will need to be. December sales account for 15 percent of the annual sales tax revenue for the city of Aspen, and therefore is a month used as a barometer for consumer spending. However, sales tax collections account for only about 16 percent of the city’s revenue stream. The predominant revenue comes from property taxes.

Sales tax figures are expected to be analyzed before the Feb. 10 meeting.

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