Boulder’s City Council last week signaled initial support for a $462.5 million spending plan that the city views as the beginning of economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
The proposed 2022 budget — which includes $300.1 million in its operating budget and $162.4 million in its capital budget — passed Tuesday on first reading without any significant changes. Very few people spoke during the public hearing, a cause for concern from some councilmembers.
“I, too, find it disappointing that when we’re allocating half a billion dollars and locking in what is essentially going to be our work plan for the following year that we get such little public testimony,” Councilmember Adam Swetlik said.
He argued the city should work on outreach and education about the budget and its impact on the following year. A second public hearing will be held during the Oct. 19 Boulder City Council meeting.
In the upcoming year’s budget, Boulder officials have primarily been focusing on the city’s ability to restore services that were cut or reduced in 2020 and 2021. The budget is a “testament to the city’s resilience,” according to City Manager Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde.
“Our revenue expectations have been more favorable than anticipated, which has led us to be cautiously optimistic,” she said.
Last year, due to financial strain from the pandemic, Boulder laid off staff and furloughed employees. It did not offer merit-based increases or raises for anyone aside from members of the Boulder Police Officer’s Association, whose members received raises due to a contract that mandated it.
However, in 2022, the city intends to allocate about $3 million to support its staff and will restore merit increases for municipal union and nonunion employees. It also will bring back nearly 60 full-time employees and will extend 18 contract positions.
The city relies heavily on sales tax, which accounts for about a third of its annual revenue. In 2022, it expects about $56.17 million in retail sales tax, nearly $4 million more than what it ended with last year.
However, while the overall budget is some 35% higher than what the City Council approved in 2021, anticipated revenue has not fully rebounded.
The finance department is expecting accommodation taxes and revenue aside from sales and use taxes, property taxes and parking-related fees and fines to remain down.
In terms of service restorations, Boulder is planning to partially restore Boulder Arts Week, and it’s allocated a significant amount to restore services at the Boulder Public Library.
Further, budget documents indicate there will be a significant investment in Open Space and Mountain Parks and Boulder Parks and Recreation, primarily to restore and enhance maintenance services for both departments.
Open Space and Mountain Parks is set to receive about $1.3 million, which will return the department to prepandemic levels.
The Parks and Recreation Department will receive funding for similar purposes, including money for an additional maintenance person to help in Boulder’s downtown, the Civic Area and Columbia Cemetery, all of which experienced “increased use and pressure, especially following deferred maintenance during COVID,” according to a staff memo.
Furthermore, with funding from a bond, Boulder is planning for some costly capital projects, including a $44.5 million sewer improvement project.
There was some discussion Tuesday about whether the city should be adding more to its reserves in order to hit the 20% target set by former City Manager Jane Brautigam. While most agreed reserves are important, councilmembers also emphasized the importance of restoring services.
“We need to balance that to make sure that we are adequately funding the needs of our community at any given time,” Mayor Sam Weaver said in the meeting.