Budget grows to historic proportions | AspenTimes.com

Budget grows to historic proportions

Carolyn SackariasonAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN Aspens elected officials are poised to pass the largest budget in the citys history.The City Council on Monday embarked on the beginning of the 2008 budget process, with an eventual approval expected in November. Next years operating budget could be as much as 11.7 percent more than 2007s. Thats about $5 million more in expenses for next year, explained city Finance Director Paul Menter. And total expenditure appropriations could be as much as 17 percent higher than in 2007 amounting to $84 million in spending, which includes a proposed $47.2 million operating budget, $31 million in capital expenses and nearly $5.7 million to pay off debts.We are in an environment where we are seeing [an increase in] the levels of demand for services. We are in a period of community growth, Menter said.The 2007 operating budget originally was estimated at $42.3 million. But with increased costs in the community development department related to the recent moratorium on development and in the engineering department related to construction, as well as a 5.3 percent increase in city payroll and a 4 percent increase in inflation, among other financial impacts, the bottom line increased nearly $2.7 million.In order to maintain those levels, we will have a 6.4 percent increase, Menter said.Add to that nearly $5 million in estimated cost increases to the 2008 budget, which includes about $1.1 million more in funding requests from each department in City Hall; $584,752 to add a bus route to Buttermilk and all points in between; $150,000 in anticipated costs to hire two employees to administer a yet-to-be voter-approved construction use tax; $211,983 to support a child-care program; and other incremental costs.Looking at the numbers, in terms of funding requests, that is what our operating budget is, Menter said, adding thats projected to be $47,266,349 an 11.7 percent increase.Mayor Mick Ireland said that as he and his colleagues analyze the budget in detail during the next month, the question they must ask themselves is: How can we sustain this growth? That will be the central question, he said. We have to look at this closely.Menter said the proposed budget is lean and mean, and brought to the council and the public with no new increases in taxes. If there needs to be a shifting of money to pay for increased levels of service to the community, it would likely happen by reallocating revenue, he added.The 2008 capital budget is estimated to be $30.7 million $11,374,375 more than last year. The 2007 capital budget was $19,737,200.The 57.6 percent increase includes nearly $11 million to build affordable housing; $10.5 million in improvements to water and electric facilities; $4.7 million in several improvements set out in the asset management plan; nearly $3 million for the parks and open space program; $1.2 million in parking, transportation and costs associated with the Yellow Brick, the golf course and the Wheeler Opera House. The City Council is scheduled to review the budget tonight, as well as on Oct. 15, 16, 23, 29 and 30. The public is invited to attend; all meetings start at 5 p.m.Carolyn Sackariason’s e-mail address is csack@aspentimes.com.