Breckenridge council and staff ‘cautiously optimistic’ about 2022 budget
The Breckenridge Town Council unanimously voted to adopt the town’s 2022 budget at its Nov. 23 meeting, and town staff called it the first normal budgeting process since 2019.
“This budget restores a lot of the program expenses and a lot of capital expenses … to the budget, and is really our first normal budget in terms of not anticipating any kind of revenue reductions or program reductions due to COVID-19,” town Finance Director Brian Waldes said at the meeting.
Town Council holds a budget retreat every year to review how finances are going in the current year, as well as to plan for the next. The meeting was held Oct. 12, and Town Manager Rick Holman said the town has fared pretty well throughout the pandemic. He said the town saw a “surplus of dollars” with revenue far exceeding expenditures.
The town put a pause on several capital improvement plan projects to save money during the height of the pandemic, and Waldes said a lot of what is budgeted next year will help the town catch up on these items. Projects budgeted for next year include $4.5 million toward rehabilitation on the Blue River, $2.9 million for a Blue River crossing at Coyne Valley Road, $2.5 million for fiber infrastructure and $2 million for roadway resurfacing. Another big project coming from the parking and transportation fund is $5.5 million to complete a roundabout at the intersection of Park and Watson avenues.
Waldes also said the town paused its merit salary increases for the past two years, so it budgeted $300,000 to get salaries back on track for 2022. This year, he said the town provided 4% pay increases for all staff to soften the blow of the multiyear pause on raises.
Council member Dick Carleton said the 2022 budget reflects how much the town prioritizes its people. In addition to bringing back the merit-based increases, the town is investing $30,000 in a compensation study to ensure it is paying competitive wages.
Carleton also said a decrease in marketing funds is reflective of what the town has heard from residents. He said some of the funding previously going toward marketing has been repurposed to go toward child care.
Waldes said he is “cautiously optimistic” about a relative return to normal, but he added that revenue and expenditures could take another turn as the pandemic continues. He said the town is not required to spend all of the money included in the budget and that it’s able to change plans to react to what’s going on in the community.
“The biggest thing we’ve emphasized since all this started is to remain flexible and to keep giving council and the manager’s office the latest data so that we can make changes if we need to,” Waldes said. “The budget was approved last week, and now the pandemic story has of course changed again with this variant. … The minute we adopt it, now there’s this new factor that we have to keep an eye on.”
Waldes said even before the pandemic, the town had a multiyear budget analyses completed to make sure any potential disruptions could be accounted for. He said that in March 2020, the town had some “pretty grim models,” which is why the 2021 budget was so reduced in its projections.
“This is the first budget really since 2019 that wasn’t modified or designed with these revenue cuts in place,” Waldes said.
Council member Jeffrey Bergeron said he thinks the town will be in for a good year if the county sees some more snow, as more people came to town to spend money during the pandemic than anticipated.
“Initially, when the pandemic first hit, the financial department had a real dire prophecy of what was going to happen with our budget,” Bergeron said. “Then after a year, it wasn’t nearly as bad as we thought it was going to be. And then the next six months after that, I think we were all surprised by the amount of people that came here in the last two summers and how last winter seemed almost to be at a normal level.”
Since the budget retreat, the only additional change was adding $80,000 to the general fund so the town can hire an additional short-term rental administrative staff position. This is a separate position from the new community service officer job aimed at improving enforcement, which was already included in the budget.
Waldes said the person who fills the new position will split their time between short-term rental specific work and helping the finance department with the increased volume of work it is seeing in general. He also said the town will no longer be looking to hold positions vacant as it did the past two years.
Another step toward normal is increased funding for town programming, such as programs at the Breckenridge Recreation Center and Stephen C. West Ice Arena, according to Waldes.
Carleton said the town always budgets conservatively, which has worked in Breckenridge’s favor throughout the pandemic.
“We were planning very, very conservatively with COVID, so it put us in a pretty solid position going into this this budget process for 2022,” Carleton said. “We’ve approached 2022 based on previous ‘normal’ years, with a very conservative increase.”
In total, Breckenridge has budgeted for about $229.5 million in revenue for 2022, compared to its estimated final 2021 revenue of $141.1 million. The town also budgeted for $223.4 million in expenditures for 2022, compared to its estimated expenditures for 2021 coming in at $108.6 million.
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