Update Sept 2015 – Budget, Homeless, and More!

I am five months into my four-year term of serving you as Councilor-at-large on Glenwood Springs City Council. It is a privilege to be a part of such a great city and I am honored to work with other city council members, city staff, local business and citizens to help guide Glenwood through the next three and a half years.  It is likely to be some of the best times that Glenwood has seen, as well as some of the most difficult. 

One of my election promises was better communication and I have not been as good at that as I had hoped.  So, to that end, as a start I plan to provide a monthly update that will include a brief description of meetings and events I have attended as well as a bit about one or more city departments.  Sometimes it may seem like nothing is happening and things do move more slowly than we all would like. But picture a duck on the Colorado River.  On the top, the duck looks calm and seems to be floating along, but below the surface, that duck’s feet are paddling like crazy.  So goes it with city hall.

Finance Department

Charles KeltySince we are deep into budget season, the first department I would like to highlight is the Finance Department, headed by Charles Kelty. Charles took over the reins from Mike Harman who retired earlier this year after 24 years as the Finance Director. Charles spent nine years as the finance director in Rifle and had a Master’s Degree in Accounting. Finance handles all of the city’s payroll, utility billing, tax administration, purchasing and building maintenance as well as making sure the city’s bills are paid and collecting funds owed to the city.

Staff includes Yvette Gustad, Assistant Finance Director; Ricky Smith, Purchasing Agent; Karen Bender, Janice Palacio, Linda Millyard and Candie Vandermark, all Senior Accounting Techs and Martha Gonzales and Elida Trujillo Solano the ladies who keep city hall sparkling clean. When you come to pay your utility bills or pick up a bus pass, these are the staff you see and are often the main contact for people dealing with city hall.

Taking the city through the budget process is no easy task and involves hours of the finance department’s time as well as a great deal of time from City Manager Jeff Hecksel and all department supervisors. Beginning Sept 29, the city will begin holding meetings with City Council, the Financial Advisory Board, and department heads to review the proposed budget, line by line. A schedule of these meetings is provided below. These are public meetings and the public is encouraged to attend.  A preliminary draft budget should be available on the City’s website when the budget work sessions begin.

Budget Work Session Schedule:

Sept 29 – 5pm -7 pm

Oct 8Special Meeting, DDA & Budget 6pm-9pm

Oct 154pm – 6pm

Oct 20Special Meeting 6pm-9pm

Oct 29Special Meeting 6pm-9pm

Nov 5if needed

All budget work sessions will be held in council chambers at city hall.

Monthly Update – meetings and events I attended

Grand Ave Bridge:  Met with representatives from Glenwood Springs Chamber, CDOT, DDA and city staff to discuss public information plans for the Grand Avenue Bridge Project August 27 2015.

Transportation Commission Sept 1, 2015:  I serve as the alternate council liaison to this commission.  Mayor Mike Gamba is the liaison.  Discussion items included the Blake Avenue Gate between Walmart and the RFTA BRT station on 27th as well as traffic calming measures on the residential streets in the downtown area.  Terri Partch, City Engineer and Geoff Guthrie, City Transportation Manager discussed the proposed multi-use path along Midland, from Lowes to Interchange 114, 27th Street Bridge and touched on RFTA’s Access Control Plan.  They updated on the Grand Avenue Bridge and 8th Street extension projects as well as discussing who will represent this commission on the Acquisitions and Improvement (A&I) tax working group.  The Transportation Commission is finalizing the Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) and determining next steps.  This commission always has a great deal to discuss and it seems like never enough time!

Ride-along with GSPD Sept 4, 2015:  I was privileged to be able to ride and walk with several officers from the police department  from 6 p.m. to about 2:30 a.m. It was a great experience, one I hope to do again. You can read more about my thoughts here.  My thanks to Officers Noel, Crawford, Cole, Gobbo, Miller, Dietrich, Yorty,  and Lawson as well as Code Enforcement Officer Springer, Detective Sergeant Hassell, and Patrol Sergeant Prough for putting up with all of my questions and taking the time to talk with me.

Colorado Municipal League (CML) District 11 Meeting in Silt Sept 9, 2015:  CML provides  training and information on issues of concern to counties and municipalities.  It is also a great chance to talk with other staff and elected officials from other communities in our area. Mayor Rick Aluise presented a wonderful powerpoint on the accomplishments that have taken place in Silt in the recent year.

Roaring Fork Transit Authority Board Meeting (RFTA) Sept 10, 2015:  I serve as the alternate council liaison to this board.  Mayor Mike Gamba is the liaison.  Discussion items included a presentation of the first draft of RFTA’s 2016 budget and an update of the Rio Grande Corridor Access Control Plan.  License for access to the Rio Grande Trail was granted to ACES Rock Bottom Ranch

Take Back Your Power Sept 10, 2015:  At the invitation of Marilyn Shettel, I attended a screening of a documentary “Take Back Your Power.”  It raised some interesting questions and I will be talking more with Ms. Shuttle in the near future.

We’ve Got Your Back!  Sept. 11, 2015:  This was a hastily thrown together “thank you” to area law enforcement and first responders in our region from Aspen to Parachute.  For being planned in less than 36 hours, it was well attended.  I have received requests from community members to turn this into an annual event and make it bigger. We’ll work on that!

Club 20 Fall Meeting Sept. 12, 2015:  This was my first Club 20 meeting and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing U.S. Congressman Scott Tipton and U.S. Senator Michael Bennet on things happening statewide and nationally. I also received lessons from Henry Sobanet, Governor Hickenlooper’s Budget Director on Colorado’s fiscal challenges and from Mark Hermundstad on water regulations and impacts on Colorado’s Western Slope. The networking was also wonderful!

Garfield County Economic Development Partners Sept 16, 2015:  This is a group of staff and elected officials from various entities throughout Garfield County that meet quarterly to review what is happening in Garfield County. RFTA presented their 2015 Travel Plan Study.  The roundtable is particularly useful to know what other communities are working on and to provide opportunities for partnership and coordination.

In addition we have had two City Council meetings which included a work session on the Confluence Area and a work session with the Planning and Zoning Commission.

***MARK YOUR CALENDARS***

Community Discussion: The Effect of the Growing Homeless & Vagrant Population in Glenwood Springs

Monday, October 5, 2015

6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Glenwood Springs Community Center

Coming up this week: 

Planning & Zoning Commission Meeting Tuesday, Sept. 22

City Staff Employee Picnic Friday, Sept 25 – City Hall closed from Noon to 2 p.m.

Fire Department’s Open House Saturday Sept 26!  The Fire Department’s Open House is always fun for all ages so come on down from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the downtown fire station at 8th & Cooper.

Board and Commission Openings:  apply here!

Planning and Zoning:  1 Alternate

River Commission: 1 Alternate

Victims and Witness Assistance & Law Enforcement Board (VALE): 1 Alternate

Board of Appeals: 1 Alternate

Parks and Recreation: 1 Alternate

What is this thing called “Transparency”?

“If You Are Paying Attention . . . It Should Be Transparent” . . .NOT!

City_of_GWS_LogoI have been underwhelmed by comments on my latest Glenwood Post Independent column, and I am not surprised.  The city budget can be a dry subject to most and I did little to bring it to life. However,  I did receive two comments from Mayor Leo McKinney involving three items I mentioned; transparency, goals and creative thinking.  So, while I am no authority,  let me explain my view.Tweet

The first of Mayor McKinney’s comments, read “the process is transparent for anyone who wishes to pay attention & goals are laid out in the manager’s budget message.”

So What Is Transparency . . . Really?

I will address the transparency issue  in this post since it is the largest and ties into the other two.  In a subsequent post I will talk about goals and creativity. 

In his book, “Transparent Government: What it Means and How You Can Make it Happen”, Donald Gordon defines transparency as:

“The principle by which those affected by administrative decisions and legislation are made aware of the basic facts and figures as well as the mechanisms and processes of their government. This information must be presented in a way that is accessible, comprehensible and enticing, thus motivating citizens to engage in the dialogue necessary to improve the efficiencies of government and mitigate corruption.  It is the duty of our elected representatives and of civil servants to act in such ways as to enable this transparency.”

Accessible

While this is kind of a mouthful it contains key elements that are missing in the budget process – as well as other areas – of the City of Glenwood Springs, and frankly from most governmental entities.

The basic facts and figures are present in the 100-plus pages of the City of Glenwood budget. However, the mechanisms and processes as to how those facts and figures were determined are not.to be found anywhere.  Once again, this is NOT an indictment of the city’s finance department who is responsible for preparing the draft budget, but in the policies that govern the process of determining the over-all budget as well as the final recommendations that council receives on each line item of the budget.

Micromanagement?  Maybe . . .

Some may assert that is micromanagement.  That may be.  Sometimes micromanagement is good and even necessary at times. As a taxpayer, our elected representatives and we, the citizens of Glenwood, have the right to know the basis for those decisions.  Not to pick on specific departments, but for example, what has been the policy, thought process and justification for 26 full and part time employees and an operating budget of  $3.29 million in the Parks and Recreation department compared with 31 full and part time employees and an operating budget of $3.34 million for the Police department?  What is the data to support those decisions and on what basis were they made?

Three Hurdles to TransparencyPolicy, Technology, Culture

Gary Bass, founder and executive director of OMB Watch, which is now the Center for Effective Government and Sean Moulton, Director of Open Government Policy at the Center for Effective Government note that there are three hurdles to transparency; policy, technology and culture.

Policy & Technology

Regarding policy & technology, Bass and Moulton state,  “Current laws and policies on public access are inadequate for today’s 24-hour-per-day, seven-days-per-week Internet-enabled world.” 

If this is the case, why would it appear the city is not fully committed to bringing their information systems into the 21st Century.  Currently the Information System Director is a .5 FTE – which means that he works in IS about 20 hours a week.  The city has committed to hiring another  Assistant Computer Tech., which brings the number of personnel in this department to 2.5.  Compare this to Durango with a staffing level in their Information Systems of 10 for 2015.  Granted, the population of Durango is about twice that of Glenwood, but it would seem that if the city was committed to upgrading their systems, the number of personnel and capital expenditures budgeted would be higher. Again, it would be wonderful to have access to the process and reasoning behind these budget decision. I attended the budget work session last Monday and I still don’t know.

In his book, Mr. Gordon maintains that information should be released in a timely and efficient manner and “we need to require government agencies to convert that information in to a useable format that prices a level of comprehensibility that does not require a law degree to decipher.”

Culture

The budget process speaks to the culture within City Hall. There are, of course exceptions.  Bass and Moulton maintain that those in civil service (i.e. those who are employed in any government agency except the military) do not get rewarded for improving public access and, furthermore, the way governmental agencies operate discourages openness.

To illustrate, I will use an example I am very familiar with – that of information surrounding items coming before the Planning and Zoning Commission.Wizard_of_Oz_1939_Insert_Poster It was not until approximately 2010, after my repeated requests as Chair of that commission, that the agendas and minutes of the P&Z were made available on the city’s website.  As it is now, there is a significant delay in posting the minutes – either in draft or accepted form, which I am told is due to workload issues as well as issues with the website.  Furthermore, the online availability only goes back one calendar year.  Why is that?Additionally, if a citizen would like to review an application before the public hearing, they must go to the Community Development office and request a copy, which is normally provided in paper form.  This information should be readily accessible to the public, via the internet.

Please know that I am not asserting that Community Development, or any one department  is attempting to discourage citizens from obtaining information. It is simply the way it has always been done.  In my opinion, this must change.

Wizard of Oz Wisdom

I understand that with the recession the city has been keeping a tight rein on expenses – and that is as it should be.  However, that does not preclude citizens from asking tough questions and being involved in that process.   It is no longer ok for someone to infer  “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” – as the Wizard told Dorothy and her pals.  Citizens need the information, and it needs to be understandable and timely.  From this will come authentic citizen engagement and better decisions.

So, I must respectfully disagree with Mayor McKinney’s stance that, “the process is transparent for anyone who wishes to pay attention . . .”  I pay attention and the process is not transparent to me. As citizens and taxpayers, it is time for some changes.

What do you think transparency is?  Do our local governments have it? What works well and what doesn’t?

Fun With Budgets

Fun with Budgets! 

For those of you who watch The Big Bang Theory – you may recognize the reference to Sheldon Cooper’s video series “Fun with Flags.”  Perhaps  Glenwood Springs city council and city staff could do a video series on Fun with Budgets.  As I recall, it didn’t go very well for Sheldon Cooper – so perhaps not such a good idea.

 

Budget? What’s a budget? You say you haven’t really thought about your own personal budget, let alone the Glenwood Springs’ city budget. There is talk about a shortage between what money is coming in and what the expenses that are going out for the general fund.  How much is the general fund short?  What does that mean to me?

 

Right now, the shortfall in the city’s general fund – the fund that most of the day-to-day operations of  the police, fire, public works (engineering, water, streets/alleys), community development (planning and building) and parks  is almost $900,000. Maybe it IS time to at least glance at the city’s budget.  What follows are questions you might want to ask.

 

1.  It is literally “your tax dollars at work”

 

The “revenue” or money the city has to spend comes from several sources including:

  • Property taxes
  • Sales/Use tax
  • Other Taxes
  • Permits and Licenses
  • Intergovernmental
  • Charges for services (fees)
Chart courtesy Glenwood Springs 2014 Budget

Chart courtesy Glenwood Springs 2014 Budget

Many of these come directly from your pocket.  Wouldn’t it be good to know where the money goes?

2. Who is making decisions about how the money is allocated?

  • Are your elected officials making these decisions?
  • Is it city staff?
  • Is it both staff and council?
  • Who is ultimately responsible and accountable?

3.  How are these decisions being made?  

  • Are decisions made based on the long-range goals stated in the Comprehensive Plan — essentially the city’s strategic plan?
  • Are decisions being made based on the current priorities of elected officials?
  • Are budget decisions a consensus between staff and council?

4.  Is there Fiscal Transparency?

All of the above questions plus:

  • How have citizens been involved in the budget process or should they be involved?
  • Where can you find the city’s budget?  (Hint . . .  http://www.cogs.us/budget/2014Budget.pdf)
  • How is information about the city’s financial condition communicated to its citizens?
  • Is it presented in a way that someone who does not have a finance or accounting degree can understand?
  • Sales and use tax is our largest revenue category.  Will it increase or remain flat?
  • Are ongoing costs (usually called operations and maintenance) of large projects being considered?
  • How are revenue forecasts being done?  Who is doing them? How has the track record on these predictions been?

5.  Is efficiency and performance being rewarded under the current system?

  • What incentive do municipal departments have to work efficiently?
  • How are staff encouraged and rewarded for making suggestions on ways to cut costs?
  • Are some departments being underfunded while others are over funded?
  • How are departments being encouraged to coordinate and cooperate?
  • Are all departments working toward the same city-wide goals?
  • Are funds being distributed according to the “highest and best need”, last year’s spending or based on something else?
  • Are non-essential services being funded and if so to what level — and are there other options for funding?
  • Are “sacred cows” funded even though they are not a priority?

6.  Is the budget sustainable? 

  • Will the city be able to sustain the same levels of service for the next 5, 10 or 15 years?
  • Can growth be accommodated?
  • Will there be enough money to take advantage of opportunities that may present themselves?
  • Is bonding for major projects a good idea?

7.  Something’s got to give . . . But what?

Tough decisions are coming.

  • What will those decisions be?
  • What and who will they involve?
  • Who are the final decision makers?

Glenwood Springs has been fortunate over the years to have a weathered recessions with grace. Overall, our elected officials and city staff have been good stewards of our funds. Questions directed to both Michael Harman, Finance Director and Jeff Hecksel, City Manager are answered promptly.  However, now that the city is looking at a shortfall of nearly $900,000 some difficult decisions will need to be made.  It might be worthwhile to pay attention.

Earlier this year I wrote another blog post on the budget: http://www.ourtownglenwoodsprings.com/glenwood-springs-2014-budget-priorities/   It gives a bit more information about the 2014 Budget. I urge you to go back and read it.

I plan several posts over the next few months about the budget, the process, the specifics,  and the decisions.  I am no expert but I do have a basic familiarity with budgets and various processes.  It may not be a glamorous subject, but it is an important one. There are many in our community that have excellent financial backgrounds and much experience with these things.  I would welcome guest posts from those individuals to help us gain a better understanding. Guest posts from city staff and city council members are also welcome and encouraged.

Do you have questions or thoughts about the city’s budget?  What do you think should be given priority?   Let me know!  Leave a comment or send me an email at ktrauger@rof.net.

Glenwood 2014 Budget = Priorities?

You have heard the idiom, “Put your money where your mouth is.” The Free Dictionary clarifies the idiom as “to support something that you believe in, especially by giving money.”  The City of Glenwood Springs 2014 budget has done just that. 

The 2014 adopted budget has been posted on the city’s web site. City_of_GWS_Logo City Council adopted this budget on November 7, 2013 and appropriated funds at their December 5, 2013 City council meeting.  Budgets and financials are generally dry, uninteresting reading to most, but it is a reflection of the city’s priorities, and as such, is worth at least an overview by the citizens.  

Tax supported funds are:

General Fund

Street Tax Fund– received from a one-half percent (1/2%) sales tax on transportation related projects and programs

Capital Projects Fund–received from a one-half percent (1/2%) sales tax

Bus Tax Fund– received from a two-tenths percent (2/10%) tax for operation of Ride Glenwood

Acquisitions and Improvements Fund (A&I) – –received from a one percent (1%) sales tax

Tourism Promotion Fund–– received from a two and a half percent (2 ½%) rent tax on accommodations. Expenses are restricted to tourism promotion

 

The General Fund – the fund containing most of the City’s operating expenses –  currently has a budgeted shortfall of $894,552. According to City Manager Jeff Hecksel’s budget message this is due primarily to:

  •  Increase in budgeted expenses of $604,302
  •  Mineral Lease revenue declined  $46,762
  •  Severance Tax receipts declined $189,737
  •  Voters passed the Fire Levy last November which increased property tax revenue by $267,062.
  • Sales tax receipts from 2012 were 14% less than actual receipts for 2008
  • For 2014 Sales tax revenue is budgeted at 2% over amounts budgeted for 2013

 

Budget_Pie_Chart_-_All_Funds 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the General Fund the following are budgeted for various functions:

  • General Government (Admin, HR, City Clerk, Elections, Finance, Data Processing, Legal, Judicial, Annexation – $3,303,470
  • Public Safety (Police & Fire)  $3,223,191
  • Community Development (Planning, Building Inspection) $670,313
  • Public Works (Engineering, Streets & Alleys)  $1,454,780
  • Parks and Recreation (Parks & Cemetery Maintenance & Recreation Programs) $3,191,978 

The Street Tax Fund, intended to maintain pedestrian and vehicular facilities as well as plan, design and construct new infrastructure has a budgeted deficit of $122,091. Budgeted projects include:

  • Street reconstruction associated with water line replacement at 29th and Sopris and Vista Drive
  • Continued work on South Bridge
  • Three Mile Creek Pedestrian Bridge $250,000
  • South Midland Engineering Scoping $100,000
  • Sunlight Bridge Repair $600,000
  • City-wide Transportation Plan Update $105,000

 

The Capital Projects Fund is used for major infrastructure projects and supports the special work activity team.

  • 8th Street Construction $1,000,000
  • Transfer to Water/Sewer Fund for debt coverage $800,000

 

The A&I Fund is used to defray the cost of acquisition, construction, installation and improvement and equipment of capital improvements.  There are three large projects budgeted for this year:

  • Maintenance Facility (MOC) repairs $600,000
  • Community Center Ice Rink Locker Rooms $750,000
  • Whitewater Park/RICD $300,000

 This is a very brief highlight of a 119 page document.  It is important to note that the City will not have preliminary actual figures for 2013 until March.  The official numbers will not be available until the audit reports are made available, generally in June. 

I would encourage you to look at the budget document available at http://cogs.us/budget/2014Budget.pdf   If you have questions, Mike Harman, the City’s Finance Director, is quite willing to answer them.  His email is mike.harman@cogs.us  

Tell me what you think.  Based on the budget, are the city’s priorities where they should be?  If not, what should be different?