In its first official discussion on the matter, Boulder City Council generally supported the city’s $513.5 million proposed 2023 budget, which focuses on infrastructure projects, wildfire resiliency and homelessness solutions.
The upcoming year’s budget, which includes all city funds, represents an 11% increase from what the City Council approved in 2022 when Boulder largely kept its focus on restoring services that were cut during the pandemic.
Some highlights of this year’s proposal identified by city staff include:
• About $2 million for wildfire resilience and emergency response, including hiring three additional firefighters and staffing and resources in Open Space and Mountain Parks to increase wildland-urban interface management;
• Just under $1 million for a non-law enforcement response team for nonemergency and low-level behavioral health services;
• About $1.1 million for case management and homelessness solutions, including a day services center;
• About $1.3 million to continue Boulder’s public space management pilot program and add an encampment management team and additional urban park rangers; and
• A little more than $25 million for infrastructure projects funded by the city’s recently extended capital infrastructure tax, which includes funding for the Boulder Fire-Rescue Station No. 3 construction.
The city’s capital improvement program includes $745.2 million in planned spending over a six-year period for 200 projects. Utilities and transportation projects make up more than 70% of the program.
According to the proposed budget, the utilities department plans to spend $74.9 million on infrastructure projects in 2023, including investments in the 63rd Water Treatment Facility campus electrical and high service pump station and the main sewer interceptor project.
These are projects at least in part intended to address aging infrastructure and other system vulnerabilities.
At Boulder’s 63rd Water Treatment Facility, for example, the city is looking to address aging infrastructure by repairing and upgrading the aging power supply and electrical components on campus as well as the aging high service pump station, the largest potable water pump station in the city.
In its Thursday study session, the City Council was particularly excited about Boulder OpenGov, a new budgeting software that includes an online budget book, transparency portal and language accessibility options.
Councilmembers also praised the city’s new budgeting approach, which allows it to take a deeper look at its outcomes, while ensuring expenses fit within the city’s goals such as ensuring the city is safe, livable, environmentally sustainable and responsibly governed.
It’s the city’s hope that by the time the budget reaches the point at which it’s ready for City Council feedback, “it’s already a strong reflection of council and community goals because of this extensive process that we follow,” Senior Budget Manager Mark Woulf said.
This new approach to budgeting is part of the city’s racial equity work, through which it hopes to better understand who benefits and who is burdened by its services and policies.
“I really appreciate this new format, the ability for everyone to get much more detailed information online about the budgeting process and using the city’s values as a lens for reviewing these budget enhancements,” Councilmember Lauren Folkerts said.
Moving forward, several City Council members suggested involving Boulder’s community connectors, which work to ensure underrepresented voices are engaged with city processes and decisions, early on in the budgeting process.
The city already is beginning to think about its spending plan for next year, particularly in light of the many underfunded or unfunded projects such as a permanent behavioral health response program; regular operations at the day service center; and continued investments in city staff.
Councilmembers also urged the city staff to rethink Boulder’s reliance on sales tax revenue, which is considered far more volatile than property taxes. Sales and use tax funding makes up 38.7% of the $491 million Boulder expects to bring in during 2023.
In addition to making a push for involving the community connectors in the process next year, Mayor Pro Tem Rachel Friend asked whether the community connectors team would have time to help gather feedback on specific projects in the next few weeks.
For example, the additional money being spent on a new “encampment management” team was not universally supported and could benefit from some outside opinions, Friend noted.
According to the staff, the goal is to get to a budget the City Council can approve by Oct. 20.
Council members can submit changes through Sept. 23 via Hotline with a public hearing scheduled Oct. 6. The budget will be up for adoption on Oct. 20.
Access the proposed budget online at bit.ly/3cyctKz.