Economy looms large as Aspen council takes up 2011 budget | AspenTimes.com

Economy looms large as Aspen council takes up 2011 budget

Aaron Hedge
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – City department heads, hinting that an upswing in Aspen’s economy may be on tap, and the City Council on Monday night began discussing the proposed 2011 budget, which, if approved, would mean the first pay raises in two years for staff.

Department leaders requested spending authority over funds for several projects, including an increased subsidy from the parks and open spaces department for the Aspen Golf and Tennis Club.

“We believe we have reached a lower, but workable, equilibrium,” said City Manager Steve Barwick of the way Aspen has planned its budget through the recession.

But caution still is a must in financial planning, as much of next year’s funding for public programs will depend on the November election, officials said. Mayor Mick Ireland said any strong push in public transportation funding increases should be taken in light of the possible loss of the Democratic majority in Congress.

He noted that the Obama administration has taken a strong stance in favor of public transportation, for which Aspen receives federal funding.

“If the Republicans get control, we’re gonna have to rethink our budget,” Ireland said.

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But at the forefront of the minds of city planners around Colorado are the three tax-slashing measures on the November ballot, amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101.

If those pass, the city will have to implement a budget that is much more conservative than the one currently proposed.

“Those are game-changers,” Barwick said. “You’d have to drop the rest of your stuff and jump right back in the boat.

“The volatility … is considerably stronger than it was before.”

Councilman Dwayne Romero agreed.

“Our discussion – our first 50 minutes of dialogue – [has] suggested there is a great deal of uncertainty,” he said.

Monday night was the first of possibly four sessions the City Council will hold on the 2011 budget; council members last night discussed funding for the parks department; the general fund; parking; and the asset management plan. Another meeting will be held at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

The parks department is asking for money to be deferred from other proposed projects in order to overlay Iselin Field, outside the Aspen Recreation Center, with synthetic turf to replace the current natural grass. The goal is to increase the field’s durability and availability.

Councilman Derek Johnson, who was not at the initial City Council meeting in which the Iselin project was proposed, said he would support it.

“We have the cash,” he said Monday. “It’s important for our community. We should move forward.”

The transportation department also discussed a number of new projects, including a $10,000 expenditure on a new carpooling experiment to be based out of the RFTA stop at Brush Creek Road and Highway 82.

ahedge@aspentimes.com