Alamosa faces city budget critique

ALAMOSA — After responding to questions and critiques from candidate David Broyles during the City of Alamosa budget hearing Wednesday night, the Alamosa city council approved its $21.8 million budget for 2018.

Broyles was the only person to comment during the public hearing regarding the budget Wednesday. He said he was not necessarily criticizing the city council/staff but challenging some of the budget items and amounts.

Broyles, a retired banker, provided a personal analysis and comparison of the city’s 2013 to 2018 budgets, specifically highlighting revenues and expenditures in the general fund. Total general fund revenues from 2013 to 2018 have increased by about 11.6 percent, he said, while capital outlays during that time period have increased by 31 percent.

“That’s a negative trend,” Broyles said.

He said while the city’s budget in 2013 reflected excess funds of $336,606, the city’s proposed 2018 budget reflected a deficit of $855,000.

“You do have a negative budget,” Broyles said.

He acknowledged that the city had a strong reserve fund and had been spending that down in order to conduct extra street improvements and other capital projects, as explained by Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks. However, he asked how long the city council planned to continue that trend.

“You can do it for a while, you can have a negative budget for a while, but it will add up over time,” Broyles said.

Brooks had explained that in 2014 the council gave direction to spend down some of the city’s fund balance for capital projects that citizens in the community had requested, particularly with regard to city streets and public safety. This was a strategic decision, she said, to address capital needs in the community.

She added that the city’s reserves were still well above the 8 percent legally required for emergency contingency, reflecting more like 20 percent. She said the city councils had been conservative in budgeting revenues and stringent with expenses, so the city had built up a healthy fund balance, which the council has been using in recent years for one-time capital projects.

“We are not using money we do not have,” Brooks said. “If we were faced with an emergency like we have in the past, like salmonella, we would be able to get through that.”

Councilor Kristina Daniel, whose Ward 2 seat Broyles is seeking and Daniel is seeking to retain, said she believed the investments the city had made in its infrastructure “have been very necessary and very important.” She agreed with Broyles that the city could not continue spending its reserves down until they were gone, but she said that is not the intention of the council.

“I appreciate your comments, but I believe this is a reasonable budget,” she said.

Broyles also questioned the amount in the IT (Information Technology) budget of $549,012. That budget was about $137,000 in 2013.

“To me that’s a problem area,” Broyles said.

City Finance Director Judy Kelloff explained that in the past IT budget items were spread throughout other budgets in the city — “everybody had a line item for hardware, software.” However, now all of the IT items for every department in the city are combined into the IT budget. Doing this has saved the city money, she explained, because IT Director Jim Belknap and his staff have been able to manage IT needs and costs for the entire city network.

Brooks added that the city made the change to put all IT items under the IT department in 2014. She said the city added an FTE (full time equivalent) staff in the IT department to provide IT services for the City of Monte Vista as part of an intergovernmental agreement. Kelloff said Monte Vista reimburses Alamosa about $53,000 a year for that service, which Brooks said is not 100 percent but is a good chunk of that expense.

Brooks added that the IT budget covers a variety of expenses such as software licenses and computer replacements throughout the city.

Councilman Ty Coleman said while public works is considered the heartbeat of the city, IT is its brains, and the city must provide the tools for city staff to perform their jobs effectively and productively.

Broyles also questioned the city’s financial commitment to economic development. He said the city has budgeted the same amount — $35,000 — for economic development in 2018 that it did in 2013. He believed a more appropriate budget would be $250,000 to show the city is committed to economic development.

Brooks said the city had increased its commitment to the Alamosa County Economic Development Corporation (ACEDC) by $10,000, from $19,100 to $29,100. She said while the economic development line item is about $40,000, the city funds projects as they arise, rather than limiting economic development to just one line item.

Councilman Charles Griego said the city has put a lot of money into economic development over the years.

Every year he has been on council, he said, “There has not been one year that we have not put money into economic development … The city has never taken a back seat on this. They have always put money into this.”

Other budget highlights:

• Employees will receive a .5 percent cost of living increase.

• Increase in sales tax for 2018 is anticipated to be 3 percent.

• Non-departmental expenses totaling $250,000 are budgeted for architectural services for a downtown master plan ($100,000) and river levee recertification work (150,000.)

• Employee additions include: a person in the city manager’s office for public relations and project specialist; a totally grant funded position for health care partnership; two full time additions in the police department, one paid by the city and one paid by Trinidad State Junior College as a school resource officer; a seasonal position in public works to help with street projects; and an outdoor recreation specialist, assuming the city’s Inspire grant application is successful.

• The city budgeted more than $1 million for street improvements in 2018 and $40,000 to convert streetlights to LED, the second year of this joint project with Xcel.

• Since the $250,000 budgeted this year to paint the Craft water tower was not used, the city will roll that item into 2018.

• Repairs will be made to the wastewater treatment plant to the tune of $250,000, $500,000 is budgeted to move discharge location at the waste water treatment plant and $250,000 is budgeted for a storm drain lift station at Victoria and Thomas.

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