After a year in which sales tax collections are projected to rise 6 percent, the city of Aspen is proposing an $88 million budget for 2013.
Compared to 2012, the budget includes a 2.2 percent increase in operating expenses, which would total $51 million, and a 47 percent jump in capital expenses to $32.1 million. The latter increase is mostly related to the Burlingame phase two affordable housing project, on which the city is planning to spend $16.8 million next year.
“Capital outlays will decline to normal levels in future years,” says a memo from City Manager Steve Barwick. Aspen City Council gets its first look at the budget in a work session tonight at 5 p.m. Much of the next month in council chambers will be spent reviewing budgets for various funds and city departments. Council will approve a budget in November.
The budget includes a 4 percent merit pay increase for city employees, and a 4 percent increase in the city’s contribution to employee health plans. Employees will also see their contributions to their health plans rise 4 percent. The city notes that this bucks the national average of 9 percent increases.
Sales tax collections had their strongest year since the recession hit in 2012, and are projected to finish the year 6 percent up. Revenue levels are about where they were in 2004, according to a presentation council will see tonight. The city is forecasting a 4 percent increase in sales tax collections for 2013.
Other sources of city revenue haven’t seen quite the rebound. The real estate transfer tax (RETT), which funds affordable housing and the Wheeler Opera House, “has been declining precipitously over the last several years,” according to Barwick’s memo, from a high of nearly $12 million collected in 2006 to a projected $4.5 million this year. Through August, 2012’s RETT collections are 21 percent down from 2011’s pace.
On the property tax front, assessed values were marked down in 2010, but the city’s mill levy is restricted by state law and can only grow at a rate of inflation plus new construction. The city will again issue a mill levy credit in 2013 so it won’t collect any more than what it is due under the Colorado Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, the memo says.
Along with Burlingame phase two, which the city hopes to begin building in the spring, large capital projects planned for 2013 include: $2.9 million for the Wheeler Opera House balcony upgrade; $1.9 million for the Galena Plaza redevelopment; and $1.2 million for work on Wagner Park.
The city is also looking to add a senior planner in the community development department next year, a $100,000 expense, and an administrative assistant in the special events department, which has seen its workload increase lately. That additional position carries a $76,000 expense.