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The human element: Manitou Springs City council struggles with tough decisions for 2010 budget

TRAVIS DUNCAN Updated: November 12, 2009 at 12:00 am

The combined special meeting/work session of the Manitou Springs City Council Tuesday evening was long and at times contentious, though it began in relatively light-hearted fashion.

The meeting kicked off with council passing a resolution appointing Matt Carpenter to fill the Ward 3 seat that had sat vacant since Shannon Solomon’s resignation earlier this year.

Then, former mayor Marcy Morrison read a resolution honoring Carol Lawson, who retired as City Clerk from the city of Manitou Springs on Oct. 31 after 21 years of service. Kind words were spoken by multiple council members, including a teary-eyed Donna Ford, who said that, “Carol was an extremely special lady. She always kept her own council and never gossiped. She was a woman of honor and integrity.”

Following the resolution honoring Lawson, council appointed Kari Kilroy to the position of interim/acting City Clerk to fill the vacancy.

Then the work session, and the task of balancing the city’s 2009 and 2010 budgets, began.

Finance Director Mike Leslie said that he’d had a “negative epiphany” the previous evening when he realized he’d failed to budget for Police Department overtime, which left the 2009 budget more than $9,000 in the red to start the evening. Council came up with multiple suggestions for balancing the 2009 budget:

• Keeping the Parking Authority Fund under the umbrella of the General Fund for 2010, as opposed to making it an enterprise whose funds could not be touched.

• Looking into whether the Fire Department could defer the purchase of bunker gear, which costs $12,580, until 2010.

• Manitou Springs Public Library will defer the purchase of $1,500 in book purchases until 2010.  

• Economic Development Director Kitty Clemens suggested the Urban Renewal Authority’s board members could vote to pay the city back for support the URA received from Clemens, Planning Director Dan Folke and other city activities over the course of 2009. Clemens and Folke said they would meet on Wednesday to determine the amount of support given and notice of a special URA board meeting to occur on Friday would be posted as soon as possible.

• Leslie said he would be meeting with city staff on Wednesday to go through expense reports line by line to determine what bills the city currently has to pay and whether any departments will have leftover funds that can be used. “Hopefully that’ll take us into a positive fund balance,” he said.

• Leslie also said the city’s September sales tax numbers should be in by this Friday. If the numbers are lower than predicted, council will have to come back to the table and further tweak the 2009 budget.

“So we’re at a happy place with 2009?” Mayor-elect Marc Snyder asked.

“We’re at a happy meal,” said Leslie.

The task of balancing the 2010 budget was a bit stickier and the evening ended with a cliffhanger of sorts.
Leslie said that he had met with an insurance agent earlier in the day and discussed reducing the medical benefits package for city employees. According to Leslie, the new plan would change deductibles (from $1,000 to $1,500), co-insurances and co-pays, as well as reduce the city’s liability by around $30,000.
With the stripped-down insurance, the 2010 budget would be $6,000 in the black. If the city keeps benefits at its current levels, the budget is $30,000 in the hole.

Carpenter asked that the benefits be put back into the current budget, which was seconded by Councilwoman Aimee Cox.

“Given that our employees can’t expect a raise at this time, I’d like to put it back in,” Cox said. “I also feel that by giving up on these benefits now, we’re losing ground down the road.”

Carpenter, referring to a $130,000 Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce reserve fund which was only discovered right before Tuesday’s work session, said that the city and many other organizations were operating without reserve funds and that “perhaps it’s time they (the Chamber) use their reserve.”

Mayor Eric Drummond expressed displeasure at the Chamber’s lack of transparency. After Councilwoman Ford said, “You should be glad they (the Chamber) were that prudent,” Drummond responded, “I am glad. But the point is not that someone would squirrel the money away so we’d accidentally find it, that we’d happen upon it after we’re talking about furloughs and firing people ... It’s not that it’s not wise to have a reserve fund. It’s that with transparency that would have been out on the table.”

Multiple council members expressed concern over the EDC and Chamber of Commerce showing hard data that the money they spend on marketing for the city is yielding a good return on their investment — the same contentious issue which was entwined with Shannon Solomon’s decision to abdicate his Ward 3 seat earlier this year.

“I’m sorry, I’m having a déjà vu moment,” Cox said. “Last year this was so contentious when council members asked for accountability. I’d like to see numbers on iconic events. That’s tangible evidence of your impacts.”

Leslie said he would be meeting with the EDC and Chamber of Commerce in the coming week, with the $130,000 reserve fund being part of the discussion. At night’s end, the question of whether city employees would have current or reduced benefits next year remained up in the air.

“By second reading,” Leslie said, “you guys are going to have to decide.”

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