City budget ax to chop 3.5 percent for next year

Approaching the end of a year in which its primary source of revenue will experience its greatest decline in a quarter century, the city of Grand Junction is expected to reduce spending by 3.5 percent in 2010 and will slash more if the economy doesn’t improve.

The City Council on Monday got its first look at a $134 million budget that proposes no new employees and no utility or recreation fee increases, save for a 4 percent hike in the price of an annual golf pass.

The $134 million spending plan is down slightly from this year’s amended $138.9 million budget. But it’s off significantly from the $149.4 million budget originally adopted for 2009 and 14.5 percent less than the $156.8 million spent just last year.

“The most important thing is to continue to deliver essential services with the limited revenues we have,” City Manager Laurie Kadrich said following a 4 1/2-hour budget workshop at Two Rivers Convention Center.

But that may prove to be a challenge next year unless sales-tax revenue rebounds.

Receipts from sales and use taxes, which account for about two-thirds of the city’s general fund, are projected to be down 13 percent this year compared to 2008. That’s larger than the 11 percent drop in 1983, when the oil-shale bust raided the city’s coffers. The city responded by trimming $10.5 million off this year’s budget through a hiring freeze, fuel savings and cuts in equipment purchases and operating expenses.

All regular full- and part-time city employees will take a 3 percent pay cut next year that will save $1.5 million.

Kadrich revealed Monday that the city also will roll out a voluntary employee reduction plan next year that will carve an additional $500,000 out of the budget.

She said that program could take several forms, including early retirement for some employees and a job-share program for others.

City officials are predicting a 3 percent increase in sales- and use-tax revenue in 2010 and say the local economy is beginning to show signs of life.

But if that projection proves to be off, more budget cuts will be forthcoming, Kadrich said.

Those could include reductions in service and personnel. Kadrich said she doesn’t yet know whether employee layoffs would be a possibility.

Signs of reduced spending this year and next are evident throughout several city departments:

A declining workload because of processing fewer development applications, coupled with personnel shifting to other departments to help make up for attrition, has left the size of the Public Works and Planning Department at 2002 levels, according to department Director Tim Moore.

Although the Police Department’s budget is expected to grow 6 percent in 2010, interim Police Chief John Camper said he is asking his staff to conduct a top-to-bottom analysis of the department’s services in an effort to identify potential cuts. City officials to this point have crafted budget cuts in a way that spares the police and fire departments.

Revenue for the Economic, Convention and Visitor Services Department is expected to drop 17 percent this year and another 20 percent next year. Event attendance at Two Rivers Convention Center is off 20 percent this year.

“We need to be focusing on marketing now more than ever to try to sustain business,” department Director Debbie Kovalik said.

Deputy City Manager Rich Englehart said the city will spend less on employee training next year by holding more training sessions in town or over the Internet instead of sending employees out of town.

The City Council is expected to adopt the 2010 budget next month.


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