Recently, there have been some questions asked of city staff and elected officials regarding our city budget process, sources of funding and spending priorities … especially those related to public safety. Unfortunately, there has also been much misinformation spread to our citizens based on rumor, assumption, and anti-tax sentiment, but not based on actual facts and figures within the appropriate context. Therefore, I have been asked to provide some information and examples of how we handle city finances to help our citizens gain a better understanding of the operations of their local government.
The city operates in a fiscally conservative fashion by keeping the number of full-time benefited positions to a minimum (we have reduced our staffing numbers considerably since 2008). In fact, most departments have not seen new positions created during that time, other than the police department, where we have authorized to hire up to four additional officers each year for the past several years. In other divisions such as parks and streets, we have replaced full-time positions with seasonal employees who can provide more work hours at a lesser cost. We also use local contractors for many services such as janitorial, carpentry, painting, landscaping and concrete work because we can get a good product at a reduced cost.
From 2008-2012, when the local economy was suffering, the city did not offer much in the way of employee wage increases, and we went into simple maintenance mode for most services. We have been digging out of that hole ever since. At one point we reached staff reduction levels of 28%. In 2011, there was more than $20 million in facilities maintenance and more than $40 million in street maintenance facing the city. The city was also carrying inadequate reserve funds and was not able to meet the required capital fund contributions on an annual basis. Since 2012, we have extended our vehicle and computer replacement by several years, and we have established Operating Reserve Fund policies based on best practices (90 days for Enterprise and 180 days for General Funds).
We have saved up money and have received millions of dollars in grant funding over the past seven years, accomplishing great things such as broadband/high-speed internet availability, the Connect Trail Initiative, several major street projects such as East Oak Grove Road, roundabouts on Hillcrest and Woodgate, Hillcrest extension, Grand/Rio Grande extension and crosswalks; as well as other capital projects such as the Riverbottom Park restroom, Sunset Mesa improvements, CMU Campus Quad construction, police department roof replacement, and city-wide Brownfields cleanup.
The city is also a critical partner to many non-profit expansion projects such as PIC Place, HopeWest Hospice, Region 10, All Points Transit, Montrose Recreation District, the Montrose/Olathe School District, CASA, Ute Indian Museum, Rotary Clubs, Habitat for Humanity, and Sharing Ministries Food Bank. It is important to note that much of the “new revenue” each year is passed through collections to the Recreation District and to grant money earmarked for capital projects, which can’t be used for staffing or services.
We are asked a lot about the creation of our Montrose Urban Renewal Authority named Colorado Outdoors. This is an award-winning urban renewal project that will bring approximately $200 million of private investment into our community over the next 23 years. The city did not give millions of dollars to Mayfly/Ross Reels. The URA borrowed approximately $8 million from the city’s water fund savings account at a 4% interest rate (which tripled the interest earnings for city water customers) in order to construct public improvements such as streets, water, sewer, curbs and gutters for the Phase I area of the URA development. This money went to local contractors who built that public infrastructure and did not go to Mayfly/Ross Reels. This project is already prompting many new manufacturing companies, hotel & restaurant owners, and housing developers to do business in Montrose.
You might ask: “Why can’t the city just stop building new things and fund only our police department?” The answer is that the city has a responsibility to serve the diverse needs and desires of 20,000 residents and even more regional visitors. We currently devote 45% of our General Operating Funds to public safety, and that number grows every year. If we were to stop funding everything else, the PD would grow, but the community’s infrastructure, facilities, services and ultimately our economy would suffer dramatically. The total sales tax in Montrose is 7.95% and the City only gets 3%...the remainder goes to the state (2.9%), county (1.75%) and rec district (.3%). Sales tax is a fair way to fund things like streets, parks and police because it is paid by all shoppers including many tourists and out of town visitors, not just our City residents.
I would like to finish by saying the amount of misinformation and false financial information being passed around is both astonishing and disappointing. The city staff and council are here in service to the Montrose public and we would love to be contacted in person, over the phone, or via email if there are questions about city processes, policies, or practices. We are eager to have more people on our Citizen’s Budget Advisory Committee and we would welcome more attendance at our budget work sessions. Please contact us.
Bill Bell is the city manager for the City of Montrose.
About the City of Montrose
For information about the City of Montrose, visit CityofMontrose.org. Follow the city on Facebook (facebook.com/CityofMontroseCO) and Twitter (@montrosegov). City Hall is located at 433 South First Street in downtown Montrose and may be reached at 970.240.1400. Hours are Monday-Thursday, 7 am – 6 pm.