Fire tax approval takes pressure off Glenwood Springs budget
Ryan Summerlin November 8, 2013
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Voter approval Tuesday of a new city property tax to support fire and ambulance services will go a long way to make up what had been a $1 million deficit in the city’s proposed 2014 budget.
City Council is set to consider a resolution at its regular meeting tonight approving an $11.8 million general fund spending budget for next year.
The budget proposal now includes the additional $369,000 in tax revenues approved by city voters, and intended to make up a funding shortfall for the Glenwood Springs Fire Department.
“We had an option two budget” depending on voter approval of both the city and rural fire district tax measures, both of which would have had a bearing on the city’s general fund, city finance director Mike Harman said.
“That’s the version that will be going to council,” he said.
According to unofficial final results of Tuesday’s mail ballot election, voters OK’d the 2-mill levy on property within the city, as proposed in ballot Question 2A, by a tally of 1,223 in favor to 1,057 opposed.
The new city property tax money will be in addition to the portion of the general fund that goes to run the fire department, which mostly comes from city sales tax revenues.
Likewise, voters in the outlying Glenwood Springs Rural Fire Protection District approved Question 5A on the ballot, which asked for a 2-mill increase in the existing district mill levy to raise an additional $130,000 per year for fire protection and ambulance services.
That’s money that would otherwise likely have to come from a city general fund reserve subsidy. The rural district measure passed with 651 votes in favor, or 58 percent, to 476 opposed, according to the unofficial final election results from Garfield County.
Possible wage increases?
City officials have allocated about $400,000 from reserves to pay for a possible wage and benefit increase for city employees, Harman said.
“We did want to include in the general fund an estimate of the impact of any salary increase and [health] insurance costs, which are unknown at this time,” he said. “That is just a ballpark number.”
City Council typically does not decide on pay increases until after the first-quarter revenue numbers are in, sometime in April or May.
As proposed, the general fund budget for 2014 still includes an $889,000 deficit that would have to come from reserves, Harman said.
One big concern is a second straight month of declining sales taxes for the city in September.
For the year, sales taxes are still running about 1.5 percent ahead of last year. But, taxes from retail sales in Glenwood Springs were down 0.73 percent in August and again by 0.32 percent in September, compared to those same months last year, according to the city’s latest sales tax report.
“We had budgeted a 2 percent increase in sales tax this year, and we were on track to hit that after July,” Harman said. “The August and September numbers are kind of baffling.”
At the same time, taxes collected on overnight stays in Glenwood Springs lodges were up more than 2 percent for those same months. Collections from the city’s accommodations tax are still up more than 3.6 percent for the year to date through nine months.
Glenwood Springs City Council is tentatively slated to consider the 2014 budget resolution at 8:15 p.m. on tonight’s meeting agenda. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at Glenwood Springs City Hall.