Strategic spending plan seeks to honor prior commitments while recognizing financial constraints

Boulder City Manager Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde today released a Recommended 2024 Budget that supports core functions of government while advancing key initiatives already started in response to post-pandemic challenges and opportunities.

“The theme for this proposed spending plan is to honor our existing commitments,” Rivera-Vandermyde said. “Over the past two years, we’ve responded in a timely way to significant stresses in our community, with a particular focus on equity and best practices. If approved by City Council, this recommended budget will allow this important work to continue, while also supporting city staff and addressing critical infrastructure needs.”

A more complete message from the city manager is available in the budget book itself. The rest of this release provides key highlights.

A look at the numbers

The total 2024 Recommended Budget is $514.8 million across all funds. This budget includes a change in budgeting practice related to bond proceeds, primarily impacting Utilities, which makes the overall budget number seem lower than last year.

Excluding this adjustment, the total 2024 Recommended Budget is 4.7% higher than the 2023 Approved Budget. The total includes a 2024 Operating Budget of $374.1 million, representing a 5.5% increase over 2023, and a 2024 Capital Budget of $140.7 million.

The overall budget includes voter-earmarked revenues for specific city services and assets, such as utilities, open space, climate initiatives, and some capital projects. It also sets dollars aside in reserves for emergencies or other unforeseen circumstances.

The General Fund is the portion of the budget that covers many of the city’s other function areas, including the maintenance of facilities, paths and parks, housing and human service programs, public safety, communications and more. This fund is mostly driven by sales and use tax, with some property tax revenue, and is the largest and most flexible fund in support of city services.

The recommended General Fund budget for 2024 is $196.1 million. The total amount represents a 4.1% increase over last year’s General Fund.

Supporting community priorities

Detailed information about expenditures, including proposed spending by department, can be found in the city’s Online Budget Book.

Some of the biggest investments would support innovative work occurring in the following areas:

  • Affordable housing initiatives, including planning for the city’s largest housing project to date on the site of the former Boulder Community Hospital west of Broadway, between Alpine Avenue and Balsam Street ($31.8 million)
  • Implementation of a Homelessness Day Services Center ($6.6 million)
  • Climate initiatives ($5 million) and wildfire resilience ($1.5 million)
  • Response programs that provide clinician support along with, or instead of, police for individuals who are experiencing a behavioral health crisis ($2.1 million)
  • Cross-departmental teaming to ensure safe and managed public spaces ($2.4 million)
  • Human services programs and financial assistance for lower-income community members ($1.2 million)

Overall, the budget includes $21.1 million in enhancements to address the community’s most challenging issues.

Investments in employees and infrastructure

The city manager’s proposal also recognizes the importance of retaining talented staff to support both core services and innovative initiatives.

The recommended enhancements include 33.5 new full-time equivalent positions, or FTEs, in response to the most pressing personnel needs in the organization. In addition, another $8.3 million is proposed to increase wages for 127 of the lowest paid city employees and contractors, to implement pay structures in recently approved bargaining union contracts, and to provide for performance-based merit increases for non-union employees.

The Boulder community is served not just by a dedicated workforce, but also by essential infrastructure and facilities. This spending plan leverages capital dollars, as well as revenue made possible with voter approval in 2021 of the Community, Culture, Resilience and Safety Tax, to advance a significant list of important maintenance and construction projects.

These include the consolidation of city services onsite at the Alpine-Balsam site; renovations to the East Boulder Community Center; design and construction to enhance the Civic Area east of Broadway and through the Arboretum up to University Hill; the replacement of two fire stations; transformation of three community parks; multi-modal transportation improvements; and critical water and flood management work.

A call for caution

While the 2024 Recommended Budget is designed to achieve many positive outcomes, it was created with a clear understanding that Boulder is facing considerable financial pressures.

The city’s finances will see some benefit from a decision by voters in 2022 to create a library district and by additional property tax revenue. These benefits are balanced, however, by slowing sales and use tax revenue growth, concerns about overall economic conditions, and costs associated with the existing commitments referenced previously.

In addition, there is uncertainty about a critical source of revenue. In November, voters will be asked to decide whether to renew a 0.15% sales tax set to expire in 2024. The item on the ballot commits to allocating 50 percent of this funding to arts, culture and heritage, and the other 50 percent to the General Fund. If this measure is not approved, the city will need to make up the difference in funding to continue key service areas. Even if it is approved, current financial projections show the city will be limited to an average of $500,000 for any new ongoing programs or services within the General Fund over the next six years.

“What this means is that we must be thoughtful and strategic,” said Rivera-Vandermyde. “We cannot simply hope that revenues will increase or that taxpayers will bless us with more. We need to examine all our work with a critical eye and continue the approaches we started last year to budget for resilience. We were mindful of this as we wrestled with many difficult choices.”

Next steps

City Council will discuss the budget at a study session on Sept. 14, followed by a public hearing on Oct. 5, and if significant changes are made, a second public hearing on Oct. 19. Community members are invited to sign up to speak at these hearings. An online sign-up form will be available starting at 8 a.m. on the Friday before the hearing date and end at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, the day before. The city’s website has more information about how to participate in council meetings.