Snowmass Village exceeds expectations in 2020 budget review
Pandemic-related cuts, real estate tax revenue kept town coffers strong
The year-end budget update at a Snowmass Village Town Council meeting March 15 confirmed what town officials had hoped last fall: a fiscally conservative 2020 budget made even more so after the pandemic hit last spring kept the town’s coffers in good shape despite the immense economic challenges of the past year.
The strategy worked so well that the town exceeded the expectations set in the pre-pandemic 2020 budget by $13.83 million. That’s a nearly 32% boost in the total fund balance compared with the initial budget approved in November 2019, according to a financial update presented by Assistant Town Manager Travis Elliott and Finance Director Marianne Rakowski at the March 15 meeting.
“It is really good news and the reason being is because we did our revised expectations,” Elliott said in an interview March 15. “We exceeded those expectations, and we also cut expenditures significantly, so the resulting fund balance — or balances, I should say — is … good news.”
The net-positive outlook had a little (er, a lot of) help from a substantial boost from the Real Estate Transfer Tax fund, which brought in $6.98 million in revenue — more than double the originally budgeted $3.07 million that the town expected to come in.
Expenditures from the fund were also $890,660 below budget (expected: $3.77 million; actual: $2.88 million), netting a total of nearly $4.8 million more for the actual fund balance compared with the pre-pandemic budget.
Local real estate set a whopping record of $3.1 billion in 2020 sales, and the $70 million sale of the Westin, Wildwood Hotel and Snowmass Conference Center in Snowmass Village in December was the priciest transaction anywhere in Pitkin County last year.
In most other budget areas, the net gain was mostly the result of major cuts in expenditures — projects shelved and events canceled meant less checks to write in 2020. The biggest chunk of change came from less spending from the general fund, marketing and special events fund and the capital improvement projects fund.
A 17% slimdown in general fund expenses was nearly $3.65 million under budget (expected: $21. 24 million; actual: $17.58 million); revenue was $318,563 shy of anticipated income, a 1.6% decrease (expected: $19.98 million; actual: $19.66 million).
That leaves more than $3.3 million on the upside of the budget equation.
Marketing and special events fund spending decreased by more than a third, nearly $2.1 million less than budgeted (expected: $6.1 million; actual: $3.98 million); revenue was down $501,870, a 14.6% decrease from the budgeted amount (expected: $5.9 million; actual: $5.4 million).
Savings from that fund net about $1.6 million.
The capital improvement projects fund sliced expenditures by more than 42%, totaling almost $3.3 million in savings (expected: $7.68 million; actual: $4.38 million). Revenue for that fund was up just a hair — $36,705 with less than a 1% increase in income (expected: $4.45 million; actual: $4.49 million.)
Plus, a nearly $1 million transportation grant from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act was a “life-saver” in offsetting operations expenses last year, Rakowski noted.
“I think the cuts in expenditures, the savings overall, I think that was a conscious and great effort on staff’s part,” Elliott said. “There’s a lot of things that just didn’t happen, or couldn’t happen.”
Even so, Elliott said, “We haven’t stopped doing great things.” The fiscally conservative approach the town has taken for years proved effective in carrying Snowmass Village through a turbulent year without digging an inescapable financial hole; that ensures that there’s still money available for a number of big projects to come.
“I think it’s a good sign that we’re still being innovative, taking risks and investing in the community. It’s the right investment to make,” he said. “We’re in a good position.”
Council also approved a few amendments to the 2021 budget on first reading March 15. The updates reflect an increase in cost to the Carriage Way snowmelt system boiler replacement project and to the micro-hydroelectric facility project and formally adopt funds for a fiber optic cable installation project.
There may also be additional edits to the 2020 year-end recap, Rakowski told council; the town is still in the middle of the budget audit. But overall, the outlook remains optimistic.
“Despite such a trying year that we’ve had, we did end up on a positive note in 2020 going into 2021,” Rakowski told council.
Aspen City Council approved a contract with Daniel Joseph (DJ) Watkins during Tuesday’s regular meeting to move forward with his intentions to operate his proposed “Aspen Collective,” which is currently occupied by Mia Valley’s Valley Fine Art.