Aspen city council talks housing funds and grants on next year’s budget | AspenTimes.com

Aspen city council talks housing funds and grants on next year’s budget

Aspen City Council continued budget talks for next year with a focus on housing administration funds and grants during a Tuesday evening work session.

The housing administration is proposing a 1.7 percent increase to its base budget as well as an increase in city and county subsidies. Other organizational changes to the housing program include removing a layer of management, shuffling some duties and benefiting parties, possible future implementation of an HOA capital reserve policy and more emphasis on the role of housing property managers.

The administration also hopes to improve the functionality of the housing website, according to Assistant City Manager Barry Crook.

"We need to think about how we can utilize a better database about the properties in our system," Crook said.

The housing administration fund has a total of about $1,793,300 in revenue and expects the financial impact of its reorganization efforts to fall around $35,600.

The City Council also looked at the budget for specific housing funds, including the Truscott property, which is located near the Aspen Golf Course. The Truscott fund expects a 0.7 percent increase to its 2016 base budget and a 1.4 percent decrease in its labor costs. The $25,310 anticipated reduction in labor costs is due to Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority reorganization efforts.

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The Smuggler housing fund, which also was discussed during the work session, expects a 3 percent increase to its base budget as well as a 4.2 percent increase in its labor costs.

Located at the base of Smuggler Mountain, the 11-unit Smuggler housing-rental complex typically is provided for lower-income employees falling under affordable-housing's Category 1 guidelines, Assistant Finance Director Pete Strecker said.

With concern over the city's increasing grant program, which includes some groups outside Aspen — such as organizations in Carbondale, Sopris and Crested Butte, as the mayor pointed out — the council discussed taking a closer look at the system.

"This seems to get bigger and bigger and bigger every year. It can be hard to say no," Mayor Steve Skadron said. "And I'm glad that we don't. I'm glad we say yes. … But it is our responsibility to make sure this remains manageable."

Council member Ann Mullins said the nonprofit general fund may be worth taking a closer look at during a future City Council work session, perhaps sometime in January or February.

Mullins has participated in the review process of Pitkin County's $2 million health and human services and community nonprofit grant program for the past two years, following a decision that someone on council follow the process, she said.

"It's a very in-depth analysis of each of these groups," Mullins said in reference to the grant review process.

Applicants must detail its organization's past performance, stated goals, strategies and more as part of their application, Mullins said. She added that the health and human services staff visits with organization members to make sure they are doing what they say.

City Manager Steve Barwick said he "doesn't know of any municipality that is as generous with its budget to health and human services and community nonprofits" as the city of Aspen.

"I always say, Aspen should do its part and more," Skadron said. "And with this, I'm glad I can say we do."

The Aspen City Council will meet in a third work session to discuss the 2016 proposed budget on Oct. 27.