The Aspen City Council on Monday got its first look at the proposed budget for 2014, which includes a 5.5 percent increase in the city’s overall operating budget and salary increases of as much as 4 percent for city workers.
From 2006 to 2008, city employees were earning as much as 8 percent in merit-based salary increases. Following the recession, the average increase has flattened out to around 3.5 percent, with 4 percent increases approved in both 2012 and 2013.
City manager Steve Barwick said the increases are in line with inflation rates. About one-third of city workers would not be eligible for the salary increases because they already earn salaries at the top of the ranges for their job positions. Taking that into account, he said, the actual raises are around 2.3 percent, which is the current inflation rate.
The operating-budget increase from $51.2 million to $54 million includes $487,000 that would fund staffing for the Community Development and Engineering departments as well as wildfire mitigation. Another $483,270 was requested for the hiring of 4.5 full-time-equivalent employees spread between the Finance, Community Development, Engineering, golf and affordable housing. About $250,000 of that was requested for two positions that will help the city keep up with increased activity in the construction industry.
The 5.5 percent operating-budget increase also includes more than $304,000 in additional costs associated with electrical utilities that exceeded inflation targets as well as $250,000 for maintenance for golf, parks, open space and housing (Smuggler and Truscott).
Ending Monday’s meeting — the first in a month-long process of budget review — Barwick asked what concerns the council had.
Council member Adam Frisch asked that the staff provide the cost and frequency of raises and benefits over the past 10 years instead of since 2009, the height of the recession. He said he wanted to make sure “employees are looked after properly and consistently.”
Council member Dwayne Romero said that when people in town ask him about the budget, they want the “actual number” — intergovernmental fund transfers aside. Overall, the city is looking at net appropriations of $87.2 million, a 2.7 percent decrease compared with last year’s $89.6 million. Counting intergovernmental fund transfers, the proposed budget totals $104.6 million, a 1.8 percent decrease compared with 2013.
Barwick said both the city’s general fund and capital assets are healthy, making way for future spending opportunities for the council. But he asked that the city keep in mind that it has to sort out the problem of office space for city departments, particularly the renovation or relocation of the Aspen Police Department. That project, along with the soon-to-be-vacant Aspen Art Museum and the Mountain Rescue Aspen building on Main Street, he said, are the last “unknowns” for Aspen’s 10-year plan.
The City Council will discuss the budget further tonight during its work session, which include the following topics: parks and open space, golf, parking, transportation, and Truscott, Marolt, Smuggler and city employee housing.