Aspen to address budget today | AspenTimes.com

Aspen to address budget today

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times

Aspen's 2014 budget proposal includes salary increases of as much as 4 percent for city workers, raises that would be based on merit, according to documents the city posted online on Friday.

During a summer work session, city officials said they wanted to try to increase pay for an unspecified number of its 287 full-time employees to help make up for salary freezes that were implemented during the Great Recession amid dwindling tax revenue. However, city workers received a 2 percent across-the-board raise in 2011; merit increases of as much as 4 percent were approved in 2012.

Aspen's economy has improved dramatically in the past few years. Collectively, retail-sales records were set in July and August. Through the first eight months of this year, sales are pacing at about 6 percent ahead of the January-to-August period last year. Collections of the city's 2.1 percent sales tax have risen correspondingly.

A memorandum from City Manager Steve Barwick to the City Council points out that about one-third of city employees would not be eligible for the merit raises because they already earn salaries at the top of the ranges for their job positions. He also notes that not every eligible employee would receive the maximum 4 percent; performance evaluations might result in lesser rates.

The pay increases are just one aspect of the comprehensive annual budget process that begins with council work sessions today at 5 p.m. and Tuesday at 4 p.m.

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.

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Topics of discussion at today's meeting include an overview of the budget and then discussions on specific components such as the general fund, asset management, tourist promotion, debt service and employee pay and benefits.

Tuesday's discussions are scheduled to include parks and open space, the Aspen Golf Club, parking, transportation and employee-housing properties.

The proposed budget predicts revenue of $101.7 million in 2014, of which 38 percent would be derived from taxes, 33 percent from fees, 19 percent from intergovernmental transfers and 10 percent from other sources.

Councilman Adam Frisch said Sunday that while a raise for city employees might be in order, he wants information on the cost and frequency of raises and benefits over the past 10 years — not merely since the recession was in full swing in 2009 — to get a more in-depth view of the situation.

"I want to look at it from 2003 to 2013," he said. "We need to make sure we attract and retain the best people for the city and the community, but we also have to make sure that the taxpayers are getting their money's worth. Three or 4 percent a year might not sound like too much, but if it's compounded over many years, it really adds up."

Frisch said another budget issue that is likely to gain significant discussion will involve continued expansion of the Burlingame affordable-housing neighborhood. Under the project's second phase, buildings 1 through 4 are under construction, and many people will be moving into their units late this year or early next year.

The question before the City Council is whether to move forward with Buildings 5 through 7, which would involve a capital outlay of nearly $17 million in 2014, Frisch said.

"I think (Burlingame Phase II) is great, and in time it's important that we maximize density at Burlingame and find places for families to live," but the council needs sufficient information to weigh the demand for the units, Frisch added.

asalvail@aspentimes.com