Each December, City Council fulfills one of its most important responsibilities – approving a budget for the coming year.
In council’s view, the budget should be directly linked to council’s established goals and should provide funding to achieve these goals, which represent the needs, desires and values the citizens of Durango have voiced.
The process began this year when our previous city manager prepared a draft budget, which was then thoroughly scrutinized by City Council. We held two full-day budget retreats during which we questioned staff and suggested changes.
Following that, our interim city manager, Amber Blake, prepared a significantly changed draft that incorporated council’s recommendations. Council dedicated several study sessions going over this new draft, which included a budget reconciliation of each line-item change proposed.
Throughout this process, several errors in the proposed budget were identified. The good news is that we have competent staff in place that were able to make the corrections and bring forth a lean budget that supports council goals and community priorities.
On Dec. 3, council adopted the operating 2020 budget of $87,568,924 and $20,245,603 for the capital improvement program. The time line for budget approval allows the city to comply with deadlines relating to property tax collection processes.
Several essential elements of the budget differ from past practice. This year, council requested that department heads base their line-item requests on the five-year average of actual expenditures. This single change, coupled with detailed scrutiny of each line item, lowered the budgeted General Fund by $800,000.
This savings, along with money from the General Fund that was freed up by the passage of a sales tax increase which allocates revenues to street, alley, curb and gutter maintenance, operations and capital improvement projects, allowed us to incorporate an updated compensation plan for city employees that helps build into the budget salary ranges closer to market rates.
Council recognizes city employees are a critical part of achieving our goals. With the help of a 2018 study prepared by McGrath Human Resources Group, this budget adopts an updated compensation schedule that addresses, among other things, recruitment and retention and the need to reward tenure and establish internal equity among positions.
The total cost of implementation of the pay plan is $1,569,159.28. This raises salaries for 39% of city positions that are currently below average market rates compared to other municipalities our size in Colorado. It rewards tenure and includes a cost of living increase for some employees.
This pay plan also covers three new positions: a senior lifeguard for the new swim beach at Lake Nighthorse, a communications manager in our Public Information Office to expedite effective communication supporting council’s goal of open and transparent city government, and a much-needed library position to bring staff back to pre-recession 2008 levels.
Based on citizen support, the 2020 budget restores block grant funding for our community-wide nonprofits back to historic levels at $220,000. It also includes funding to establish a Durango Creative District in the amount of $40,000, consistent with our goals.
It also increases our reserves to 21% of the General Fund balance of $44,281,090, which council considers extremely important for proper financial management.
The 2020 budget also includes funding for capital improvement projects as recommended by our advisory boards, referencing the voter-approved sales tax increases.
A key project benefiting from the 2015 half-cent and 2005 quarter-cent Open Space, Parks and Trails dedicated tax revenues is the Animas River Trail North pedestrian bridge connector ($2,300,000 and $1,100,000, respectively). The 2019 half-cent dedicated sales tax allows us to schedule $1.7 million in street maintenance in the operating budget to address basic street maintenance like fixing potholes and chip sealing, as well as $4,525,670 in street capital projects for street overlays, reconstructions and two alley paving projects.
The 2020 budget will not allow us to open our library on Sundays at this point. However, we’ve set aside reserves in the amount of $478,000 in order to reconsider this possibility later in 2020.
This is the most thoroughly vetted and scrutinized city budget in many years. It is a challenging process to meld the many wants and needs into one comprehensive budget, but we look forward to advancing our new goals in the coming year!
Melissa Youssef is mayor of Durango, a position rotating among members of City Council. Reach her at Melissa.Youssef@DurangoGov.org.