Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correctly reflect a quote made by Councilmember Mark Wallach.
Boulder is beginning to develop its 2023 budget, one that the city expects will continue to rebound from the worst moments of the coronavirus pandemic.
Along the way, the city is incorporating new internal processes that, among other things, will embed expected results within the budgeting process. Rather than making project specific requests, Boulder hopes to use this new process to take a deeper look at what outcomes it hopes to achieve, while ensuring expenses fit within the city’s goals.
Furthermore, it is unveiling Boulder OpenGov, a new budgeting and transparency tool that will include an online budget book, a transparency portal and language accessibility options.
This news came Tuesday in a study session in which Boulder City Council heard more about what Boulder’s finance department is working on and planning as it formulates the 2023 budget.
The new budget software was particularly exciting, both for city staff and for the Council.
“It’s going to look a lot different, but we think it’s a huge step forward,” Senior Budget Manager Mark Woulf said.
Councilmember Lauren Folkerts agreed, noting that providing access to detailed information about how people’s tax dollars will be spent will go a long way in building trust with the community.
“I can’t say enough how excited I am for this project to move forward,” she said.
In terms of its budget, Boulder has not yet shared many specifics. But staff in Tuesday’s study session remained hopeful that the city will continue to recover from the reductions that were necessary at the beginning of the pandemic.
While some uncertainty about the future remains, the most recent University of Colorado Boulder econometric model indicates that 2022 retail sales tax revenue will be above the 2022 budget.
According to a staff memo from the study session, that range shows 2022 retail sales tax revenue could exceed the 2022 budget by $3.5 million to $7.8 million and 2023 retail sales tax revenue could exceed the 2022 budget by $8.5 million to $13.8 million.
Though counties vary, this generally aligns with the rest of the state, CU staff noted on Tuesday.
And it’s also what local businesses are seeing, too.
Laurel Tate, co-owner of Two Sole Sisters in downtown Boulder, said it’s taken time to recoup the losses her business experienced the past few years.
But Tate said she’s excited that downtown feels alive again.
“I have noticed a huge increase in not just tourists and people on the street but in actual revenue dollars. Our business is up significantly over the past two years,” she said.
The variability small businesses experienced since the beginning of the pandemic is indicative of what the city experiences, too, given Boulder’s dependence on sales tax revenue.
“Our reliance on sales and use tax makes us susceptible to … great volatility,” Interim Director of Finance Kara Skinner said Tuesday.
There was discussion about how the city uses its emergency reserves. While Deputy City Manager Chris Meschuk noted that the reserves are typically meant for recovery from natural disasters, Councilmember Matt Benjamin argued that the city could have spent more from its reserves in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
However, Councilmember Mark Wallach, who was part of the financial strategy committee during the height of the pandemic, noted that the pandemic was “terra incognita.”
The city wanted to save its reserves because there was — and still is — uncertainty about the future.
“It was a very frightening time and we were making very, very difficult decisions,” Wallach said.
Boulder is months away from unveiling its 2023 budget. The City Council will conduct a study session on the budget on Sept. 8. It will be considered on first reading Oct. 6 and second reading Oct. 20.