Durango city officials want to know what residents value and what items could be cut from the city’s budget ahead of a projected shortfall in 2020.
An intense schedule of meetings and surveys to gather ideas on the projected shortfall will start Thursday and last through the summer.
The shortfall in general sales tax could hurt the city’s ability to fund basic services, such as police, street and sidewalk repair. Services supported by user fees such as water, sewer and trash would not be hurt by the shortfall.
The city could increase sales or property taxes to pay for services or it could make cuts to solve the shortfall.
Rather than propose solutions upfront, city leaders want to start with broad questions about what residents value and what they want to cut, preserve, expand or introduce, Assistant City Manager Amber Blake said.
“We have to ask the citizens, what do they value in services and what are they willing to pay to receive those services. ... It will give us some insights on how we prioritize what we are spending our money on,” City Manager Ron LeBlanc said.
In 2020, the city expects general fund expenses will be about $39.2 million and revenues will be about $39.1 million, a shortfall of $100,000, according to data provided by the city.
In 2021, the shortfall is expected to be $600,000, and in following years, if nothing changed, the problem would continue to worsen. By 2027, the gap would be about $2.3 million.
The city also has $200 million in unfunded construction and equipment costs that are considered one-time expenses. For example, the city doesn’t have the money to rebuild the aging and undersized police station.
City sales taxes have been erratic in recent years, and the problem could be caused by a shrinking population in Farmington, lower enrollment at Fort Lewis College or the rise of internet sales, among other factors, LeBlanc told City Council at a meeting in January.
“There are things happening in the community, in the economy, in the nation, that should cause us to sit up and take notice,” he said.
To seek feedback on the budget, the city assembled a team of 30 people to help with outreach, and it is asking 380 organizations if they are willing to have a city representative talk with them about the budget, Blake said. The city also plans open houses, an online survey and a statistically valid survey.
The public process will happen in two phases. The first phase will last through April and focus on education and determining community priorities. The second phase, from May until July, will be designed based on feedback from the community.
“It will be an iterative process,” Blake said.
The first meeting on Thursday will be held at the Durango Public Library to showcase a successful community-supported project. During the second meeting in April, tours will be offered of the police station on East Second Avenue to educate the community about its condition, Blake said. All the meetings will be family friendly, with activities for children.
While each meeting will build on the next, residents should not feel pressure to attend every one. Blake encouraged residents to try to attend a meeting in the first phase and the second phase.