Durango City Council approved a conservative budget for 2020 on Tuesday, reducing spending about 4.9% from 2019 despite providing raises for municipal employees in the next year.
By a vote of 3 to 2, the council approved $87.57 million in city spending for 2020, which staff reduced from about $94 million proposed in October. By comparison, the city plans to spend about $92 million this year.
Councilors Kim Baxter and Barbara Noseworthy voted against the budget. Both expressed concerns with spending on large, one-time projects, such as a $4.1 million pedestrian bridge over the Animas River at 32nd Street.
Noseworthy took issue with using limited sales tax revenue to fund ongoing expenses. Specifically, she suggested using more of the voter-approved 2019 sales tax revenue to pay for large, one-time projects, rather than for employees to perform ongoing street maintenance.
At the request of City Council, staff whittled the proposed $94 million budget based on five-year spending averages and axed dozens of “errors” that “padded” departmental budgets with excess funds, Interim City Manager Amber Blake said.
For example, a budget line item for “office supplies” in the City Clerk’s Office was cut by $3,435.50 – from $7,775 to $4,339.50 – a 44% reduction, according to documents provided to City Council and The Durango Herald.
Staff scrutiny of the proposed budget also uncovered “typos,” at least one of which provided more than $10 million in proposed spending that could not be accounted for, Blake said. She attributed the error to inaccurate calculations.
“Staff has done an amazing job at taking something that was not accurate and had errors and you’ve gone through and rooted most of those out,” Baxter said.
Money cut from the $94 million proposed budget will be saved for potential future appropriation. Councilors have welcomed the prospect of special appropriations in 2020 – a scenario where city staff ask the City Council for additional funds from city coffers for an approved purpose.
“This is a better budget, this is much more conservative. We are watching every penny and holding ourselves accountable,” Blake said in an interview before Tuesday’s meeting. “We may have cut too much, but what we were tasked with (by City Council) is to move forward with a conservative budget.”
Despite overall spending cuts, the 2020 budget provides raises for all city employees to match market range salaries for similar positions in other municipalities. City staff say the increases – which could range between at least 3% to 5% – are necessary to attract employees and increase retention.
The budget does not include funding to open the Durango Public Library on Sundays as originally requested.
City Council plans to revisit the proposal in 2020 to fund the library with enough money to extend weekday hours and open on Sundays.