Aspen to slash city spending |

Aspen to slash city spending

Carolyn Sackariason
Aspen Correspondent
Aspen CO, Colorado

ASPEN, Colorado ” With an anticipated lackluster tourist economy and a mandate to spend taxpayer dollars conservatively, several public improvement projects won’t happen next year in Aspen, Colorado.

“We had to present a balanced budget so we had to cut out of the [asset management plan] fund,” said city finance director Don Taylor.

Officials plan to shave $6 million off next year’s city budget, and $4.1 million of it is in cuts to capital improvements that were planned by about a dozen departments in City Hall.

The biggest hit to the 2009 city budget is in the engineering department, which has shaved $1.3 million from its list of projects for this year. That includes curb and gutter repairs on several streets, as well as abandoning the East of Aspen pedestrian connection ” a sidewalk running along Highway 82 on the north side from the Cooper Avenue bridge to Crystal Lake Road.

The sidewalk was seen as a safety improvement for residents in the area who have no safe place to walk along the highway. But faced with dwindling tax revenues, the $1 million project won’t be funded for the next two years.

“If there’s no money, there’s no money,” said city engineer Tricia Aragon, adding sections along Main Street, Cooper Avenue, Mill Street, Aspen Street and Hyman Avenue won’t see any curb or gutter repair in 2009. Eliminating work on those portions is based on what the streets department is prioritizing for improvements, Aragon said.

Another major hit to the capital improvement budget are upgrades to facilities at the Aspen Recreation Center, or ARC, the Red Brick and the Ice Garden. At the ARC, $415,000 in improvements has been cut for 2009. The Ice Garden will see $450,000 less in upgrades, and improvements at the Red Brick recreation facilities have been reduced $450,000.

“You have to adjust based on what’s going on in the economy, and we just have to be cautious,” said Tim Anderson, director of the city’s recreation department. “A lot of these things were ‘nice to have’ items but weren’t necessary.”

That includes cosmetic improvements to the locker rooms at the ARC; retractable netting around a portion of the Lewis Ice Arena; and a remodel of the locker rooms at the Ice Garden.

“A lot of that would have been nice, but it’s more prudent to just do the minimal stuff,” Anderson said. “We aren’t taking any hard hits.”

However, gymnasts may be disappointed that the $381,000 budgeted to build pits at the Red Brick has been cut and won’t be budgeted in 2010, either.

Another large slashing occurred in City Hall’s information technology department, which is cutting $915,000 from its 2009 budget.

“Everything that was removed in 2009 was a moved a year out, and everything in 2010 goes to 2011,” said department head Jim Considine, adding upgrades that were requested in 2009 had some flexibility and aren’t crucial to the overall system. “If it goes another year, it gets a little more serious.”

The public won’t notice the cuts, except for maybe the e-commerce upgrade to the city’s website that would have allowed people to pay utility bills and parking tickets online.

Considine said hopefully the economy will improve, and certain projects can get funded.

“Generally, we can get along with our existing networks,” he said. “If you could straighten out the economy, that would be a big help.”

Many of the capital improvements that removed from the 2009 budget were either deferred a year or two, or were deemed unnecessary given the weak economy.

“Anything that was really an option went away,” said City Manager Steve Barwick.

The environmental health department will see $108,000 less in its 2009 capital budget; $250,000 in the finance department and $92,000 in streets for 2009.

The proposed cuts will be reviewed by the Aspen City Council, which is scheduled to discuss the 2009 budget on Oct. 20.

While consumption-based taxes for city coffers have shown strong growth in the past four years, it’s not likely sales tax revenue is going to remain at the same rate. City financiers are forecasting only a 1 percent increase in sales tax revenues for 2009 and zero percent for the rest of 2008.

A priority list has been created so that if the economy does improve and sales tax revenue rebounds, some capital projects will get done next year. Those include:

– East of Aspen pedestrian connection: $198,000, plus $830,000 in 2010.

– Retractable netting at ARC: $99,000.

– ARC drop slide: $30,000.

– Gymnastics pits: $381,000.

– Concrete repairs at streets department shop: $42,000.

– Energy efficiency at streets department shop: $50,000.

– City/county data center: $294,000 (currently budgeted in 2010).

– Public safety mobile data system: $145,000 (currently budgeted in 2010).

– Traffic study criteria: $50,000.

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