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Aspen budget cuts may deepen

John Colson
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” As Aspen City Hall continues to evaluate the fiscal impacts of the national recession, city officials are recommending cuts of another $1 million from the 2009 budget, on top of roughly $2.4 million in cuts already made.

The City Council will discuss the proposed cuts, which include additional trimming of personnel, at a public meeting Tuesday at 5 p.m. in council chambers.

The total amount of cuts, including those being proposed and those already adopted, would account for roughly an 11 percent decrease in the general fund for 2009, which stood at approximately $25 million when adopted in late 2008 and now stands at about $23.9 million. If the proposed cuts were adopted, according to spokeswoman Sally Spaulding, the budget would drop to approximately $22.9 million.

The personnel cuts, which would be on top of the six employees laid off earlier in March, would mostly involve leaving a finance department position unfilled, and reassigning employees in the recreation department to perform tasks in more than one department, thereby eliminating the need for part-time summer help, Spaulding said.

“We are projecting an overall 12 percent drop in sales tax revenues for 2009, so the projected and adopted cuts should balance our budget for the foreseeable future,” City Manager Steve Barwick said in a prepared statement, adding that sales tax revenues make up roughly 29 percent of the city’s general fund. “Unless trends change significantly, we anticipate looking to the 2010 budget for further cuts, rather than making more cuts in 2009.”

In addition, the city will be reducing its pay-for-performance program, which had offered a maximum of $1,800 in incentive payments to employees, to a new maximum of $1,000 per full-time employee. The program, started in 1997, amounts to a “contract” of sorts between the city manager and every department, encouraging departments to set performance goals.

Reducing the program will save the city roughly $147,000 in the general fund (or $253,000 city-wide, meaning all funds), Spaulding said.

Also slated for elimination are the commuter cash program, which rewards employees for using alternative ways of getting to work rather than in a car, and “over the top” awards handed out to employees nominated for special achievements by colleagues. Discontinuing both programs will save the city roughly $30,000 per year, officials said.

Also recommended for elimination, but not before 2010 and depending on the economy, is the fitness and wellness benefit program, saving the city roughly $173,540 in the general fund and $303,000 city-wide. The benefit equals the cost of a two-day/week ski pass with an Aspen Chamber Resort Association discount, although employees can use it for other fitness-related purposes.

If all the cuts were adopted, the city calculated that the average employee will lose about $1,700 in the form of benefits, or about a 4 percent decrease in the average employee’s overall pay package.

“We are making mindful cuts that maintain service levels here at the city of Aspen and have decided to trim in other areas that hopefully do not affect our customers,” Barwick said. “We also still have a healthy operating reserve, which we plan to keep intact as a cushion to this economy.”

jcolson@aspentimes.com


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