About $3 million has been trimmed from the city of Durango’s proposed 2020 budget in the past two months at the request of City Council, including “errors” made by former employees, said interim City Manager Amber Blake.
The proposed budget, scheduled for its first official approval Tuesday night, calls for spending $91 million, which is a reduction from last year’s $92.4 million budget.
Blake said city staff averaged five-year actual expenses and compared the numbers with the proposed budget to ensure line items were comparable with historic spending.
“The numbers on Oct. 1 were numbers from the previous finance director,” said Blake, referring to former Finance Director Julie Brown, who resigned after being placed on administrative leave while the city and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation looked into allegations of misappropriated public funds. “She is not with us to explain the numbers, but they were inaccurate.”
The inaccuracies come in the form of assumptions made in the spending document that “padded” departmental budgets with excess funds, staff said.
For example, city staff reduced electricity spending in a miscellaneous water budget by $55,300, from $195,000 to $139,700, based on actual expenses in the past five years. City staff cut a professional services position and saved $91,741 after discovering the money wasn’t being spent.
Brown’s resignation combined with former City Manager Ron LeBlanc’s retirement complicated city staff’s efforts to build the 2020 budget, Blake said. And two recently elected city councilors also pressed staff for information not sought in previous budget discussions, which complicated efforts, councilors acknowledged.
“This has been the most thorough review (of a budget) with this council,” said Mayor Melissa Youssef. “To me, I saw a real attempt to answer those questions (from councilors) with as much detail as possible, which gave me confidence in the work staff was doing.”
Library fundingCity Council plans to re-evaluate a proposal to increase staffing at the public library, extend hours and open the facility Sundays sometime next year. The library cut staff and condensed its hours of operation in response to the Great Recession about a decade ago.
The proposed 2020 budget provides funding for one more librarian – a drastic change from the six positions requested by city staff. If approved, staffing at the library will return to pre-Great Recession levels.
The money apportioned to extend hours and open on Sundays was moved by city staff to an unallocated fund balance – what could be referred to as the opportunity fund – for consideration in 2020.
City Council reserves the authority to approve a special appropriation for funds to open the library by ordinance next year, a process that requires at least two public hearings.