Budget draws comments

ALAMOSA — Several community members joined City of Alamosa staff Tuesday evening to share comments about the proposed 2019 budget.

Citizen comments ranged from playground upkeep to the First Street project.

Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks gave an overview of the city’s proposed 2019 budget and encouraged residents to continue giving input via the city’s web site. She said the city council is still reviewing and revising the budget.

Brooks added that in line with the city’s mission and vision, the city staff and council are attempting to balance resources with city residents’ needs and wishes. Major focuses are infrastructure, public safety, outdoor recreation and community projects and outreach. This year the city is emphasizing infrastructure, Brooks explained, including streets and water and sewer system needs.

Recreation is also a strong emphasis, she said, including parks and outdoor recreation for which the city has received some grant funding.

Brooks reminded the attendees that some city revenue is designated in the budget. For example fees from utilities (water, sewer, trash) are used to support those services and facilities. She said the city tries to make sure the fees charged for those services cover the costs to provide them.

General fund expenses, which cover everything from city administration to public safety (police), represent about 47 percent of the $22.7 million proposed 2019 budget with enterprise fund (utilities) comprising another 25 percent, recreation another 10 percent and other funds the remainder.

About 60 percent of the city’s revenues come from sales taxes, upon which the city is heavily dependent, Brooks pointed out.

Brooks said minimum wage would increase in 2019 and probably also in 2020 so staff is recommending that the city council adjust the pay plan to accommodate pay increases. Everyone will not get the same increase but a pay increase is recommended citywide.

The proposed 2019 capital improvement projects include $797,000 for streets, $1.2 million for enterprise fund projects (water and sewer facility needs), $217,000 for information technology, primarily a phone system replacement, and $365,000 for facility expenses such as HVAC work.

Brooks said in 2014 or 2015 the council voted to use some of its surplus fund balance for street work since the city had accumulated a fund balance above the 8 percent legally required and the council wanted to try to catch up on some of the street needs. That balance is now spent down so the city has to go back to its regular street budget, which does not go as far as the council and staff would like, Brooks said.

In response to whether utility rates will increase in 2019, Brooks said a slight increase is being recommended. She said utility rates probably need to increase a little bit every year because expenses increase.

Brooks also talked about the First Street project, which the city council has scheduled over seven years. Brooks said the council is split on whether to commit to First Street until it is completed or complete it in phases, with the phased-approach receiving a split but majority vote. Those wishing to complete the project in phases argued that they wanted to improve streets in other areas of the city at the same time rather than putting the entire street budget into one street.

She said the first phase last year was over budget because when crews excavated the street they found a mess underneath. The street essentially had no base, she said. That will likely be the case throughout the project, she added.

The second phase of the First Street project has also seen overages, Brooks explained, because the utilities were not where the city was told they would be.

Some of the public comments and staff responses shared during Tuesday evening’s budget meeting included:

• Appearance at Cole Park could be improved, specifically: trash containers could be covered so squirrels and other animals do not get into them; perhaps use volunteers to help keep the parks clean; improve the cleanliness and privacy in the Cole Park public restrooms; and clean the playground equipment, perhaps with power washers. The 2019 budget does not have much allocated specifically for Cole Park although a performance stage is in the 2019 and future budgets. The city was also commended for its upkeep of Cole Park, given how much use the park experiences, and park/maintenance crews were commended for their efforts.

• Provide Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) playground equipment and shade for playground equipment throughout the city. Brooks said new playgrounds all have ADA equipment.

• Step up the landscaping efforts, training and budget and add color to city landscaped areas. In response to the bare look by Monterrey Café where landscaping was removed, Brooks said the landscaping was removed to accommodate utility work there. She said the city is investing $40,000 to improve almost every gateway to the city, which will be coupled with a $58,500 grant.

• The city should ask other governments like Alamosa County to help pay for the recycling center since people from other communities and outside the city limits use the center.