Budget crunching | AspenTimes.com

Budget crunching

Dear Editor:

The national economy is driving a dramatically different budget than the city of Aspen has been used to in prior years. Our general fund, which is funded primarily through sales and property taxes, is not projected to grow at the rates we have seen in the recent past.

We are taking a conservative approach to our budget, and while many other locales in this country have a more pessimistic projection of the future, we are being cautious. We are making prudent budget reductions, but we are not taking drastic actions until we have a better picture of what is actually happening.

As always, our primary goal is to continue providing the highest quality of public services possible within the constraints of our budget. Until the local and national economic picture becomes more clear, our budget reductions will focus on those items that have the least impact on services.

So what are some of the things we are doing right now?

– We are cutting back on capital improvements projects.

– We have cut back on our operating budget.

– We are doing more frequent updates to City Council on our revenue picture and are developing a contingency plan in case revenues continue to decrease.

– We have a financial cushion for rev enue shortfalls or unplanned expenditures, which will give us a time period to make orderly financial adjustments to our general fund.

We are also changing the way we communicate about our budget and budget updates. In the past we have created month-end reports and posted them to our website, but we are revamping those reports to be more user-friendly and understandable for the general public. The reports are visually easier to look at, with more graphs as opposed to dense text and also include comparisons to the previous year. This will help readers get a sense about how we’re doing, and the report still contains the detail pages for those who are so inclined to read them. Look for the month-end reports at http://www.aspenpitkin.com/depts/45/ financial_report.cfm.

Additionally, the finance department will be making formal monthly budget updates to Aspen City Council the second week of each month throughout 2009.

The first of these official updates for the 2009 budget will occur at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 10, in council chambers. Sales tax numbers for December will be available by early February, and we will need time to analyze those numbers along with lodging information, etc. to make a meaningful report. December will be an important month to gauge how things are going.

You can attend the meeting in person, watch it on local television ( CGTV) or even stream it online by visiting http://www.aspenpitkin.com and clicking on the green eye logo. Meetings are broad cast live and are also available in the archive following the meeting date.

Have questions about city finances or the budget? Contact assistant finance director Ashley Ernemann at 920-5007.

Steve Barwick

Aspen city manager

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