Guest Columns

LINKHART: MUNICIPALITIES RESPOND TO HARD TIMES

Cities and towns throughout Colorado maintain services with shrinking revenues

The economic recession has definitely arrived on Main Street. More than half of the respondents to a recent survey of Colorado’s cities and towns said that 2008 municipal revenue collections were “worse” or “much worse” than 2007 revenue collections. Another third reported revenue collections as flat in 2008. Looking ahead, 42 percent of the cities and towns expect a further reduction in revenue in 2009.

Cities and towns in Colorado are working to maintain services while in most cases facing steady or declining revenue collections, according to The State of Our Cities & Towns Report, released by the Colorado Municipal League (CML) at the end of February. CML prepared the report based, in part, on a survey conducted at the end of 2008 that gauged the condition of our municipalities.

In shaping their 2009 budgets, many of Colorado’s cities and towns delayed maintenance, put capital projects on hold and deferred the purchase of replacement equipment — all in an effort to avoid reducing direct services to the public. Unfortunately, this means further delays in addressing infrastructure backlogs. Many municipalities struggle with inadequate or deteriorating water and wastewater systems, aging bridges, underfunded transit, insufficient intersections and eroding street surfaces. We must not only play catch-up, but build capacity to move people and goods in the future.

As service providers, the largest expense of municipal governments is personnel. Unfortunately, reduced revenue has meant staff reductions in some localities. Despite tight budgets, cities and towns remain dedicated to creating safe and healthy places to live and raise families. Among our most important services are police and fire protection — and public safety
remains at the core of municipal budgets in 2009.

The good news is that our cities and towns are at the leading edge of economic development in Colorado. We are working to meet the needs of our existing business community and encouraging new business to locate in our communities. Nine out of 10 of our cities with more than 18,000 residents have staff dedicated to economic development. Cities and towns use the tools that we have — zoning, infrastructure, tax and fee incentives, urban renewal and improvement districts — to expand business in our communities. Just as importantly, we work hard to make sure that our communities are attractive places to live, work and raise a family.

Examples of successful statewide economic development efforts include:

• Rocky Ford developed an incentive package that provided assistance to a start-up water-purification manufacturer that employs more than 30 people;

• Arvada redeveloped a long-closed retail space into a new supermarket center employing 50 people;

• Fort Morgan attracted an automobile dealership to the community with assistance in converting a long-vacant piece of property, adding 30 jobs to the local economy;

• Colorado Springs retained more than 250 local jobs by keeping the United States Olympic Committee and training center committed to that city for another 25 years;

• Boulder will add 765 jobs to the economy after helping an existing major employer expand with the addition of a data center;

• Dillon is adding 60 jobs to the local economy by working to make a retail infill project a success;

• A 200-job expansion for a Greenwood Village software company is the result of efforts by that city.

The coming year holds both challenges and promise for our cities and towns. Municipal government is the government that is closest to the people, which makes it responsive and quick to find solutions to people’s problems. Colorado’s economy relies on the efforts of our cities and towns to expand existing business and attract new economic opportunities to our state. This means good jobs and a healthier economy.

I’m proud to report that the state of our cities and towns is one of leadership, creativity, rapid response to problems and an overriding concern about the safety and well-being of our residents.

Doug Linkhart is president of the Colorado Municipal League and Denver City Council member-at-large.