July 19, 2018

The 2011-2012 Budget

The City Council has received and is now reviewing and discussing the city manager’s proposed 2011-2012 budget and ten-year Capital Improvement Plan. One prominent feature: the proposed budget uses very conservative revenue projections (which is appropriate given the weak economy), which means there isn’t much money to work with.

One particular issue of concern: our streets have taken a big hit in the last few years because of weather, and staff recommended directing a very large proportion of our capital dollars over the next ten years to streets. In fact, if you look at the proposed capital plan, you’ll see almost no funding for anything else (outside of a few other non-discretionary investments). Over the past twenty years we’ve made huge strides on our streets: we went from only 40% being in good or excellent condition in 1989 to 89% in 2008. And it’s really important that we keep our streets in good condition and replace the ones that have failed (there aren’t many, thankfully, but we need to get to them). On the other hand, if we maintain our streets in perfect condition but let slide our parks, trails, sidewalks, and everything else that makes Golden such a great place to live and work, we won’t have done ourselves any favors, either. Council has started a discussion about where the sweet spot is between investment and return on streets, but I’m guessing we’ll adopt an aggressive streets budget for 2011 and that we’ll spend next year exploring options for finding the right balance.

Another adjustment: we typically use impact fees from new growth to help cover the capital costs of providing water and wastewater services to existing customers. This is how we make sure that the new houses pay for their fair share of water tank replacements, new pipes, and other expensive but essential capital costs. And all of these funds are self-contained. We manage the water fund so that its revenues cover its expenses. Because growth has slowed a lot, we’ll have to increase water and wastewater rates in order to keep those two funds solvent and healthy.

I know the budget documents are long and can seem complicated, but they are really important to guiding how we as a community invest our community resources. If you have time, please look them over and share your thoughts. If you have questions, please direct them to me, another City Councilor, or to staff. We would welcome your thoughts as we wrap up the process and adopt a budget in the coming weeks.

There are three key documents. One is the formal “budget letter” from the City Council to the City Manager. You can also download the city manager’s proposed operating budget for 2011-2012 and the most recent version of the proposed ten-year Capital Improvement Plan.

We’ll be making budget decisions in the coming weeks, so this is a great time to weigh in if you have any thoughts.

2010 Budget Summary

The Citizens Budget Advisory Board and the city’s Finance Director do a great job putting together a summary of the city’s annual budget. It was in the May issue of the Golden Informer, but just in case you missed it or want a recap, here are some of the highlights:

  • Golden is a “full service” city, meaning that the city itself provides most of the services residents and businesses use. This includes police, fire, water, wastewater, storm drainage, and flood control. In many cities, those services are provided by separate districts.
  • The city’s total 2010 budget is about $47 million.
  • Of the city’s total projected revenues in 2010, sales and use tax make up 31%, property taxes are 11%, charges for services is 30%, and utilities charges amounts to 18%.
  • Our total projected sales and use tax revenue in 2010 is about $14.6 million, one-third of which has to be used for capital improvements. This is the reason that the city is always able to invest at least something in improving streets, sidewalks, and other capital projects even when revenues drop.
  • Only 14% of your property tax bill goes to the city. Most of the rest funds the Jefferson County School District and Jefferson County.
  • Because we have a largely volunteer fire department, our fire department budget is much smaller than it would be otherwise. We have four fire stations across town staffed by 11 paid staff and more than 80 volunteers.
  • Our police department has 42 sworn officers and 18 full-time staff. They responded to 64,689 calls in 2009.
  • Golden’s water system includes 108 miles of water mains, 834 hydrants, eight pump stations, nine treated water storage tanks, three raw water reservoirs, and one interbasin tunnel. The system provides nearly three million gallons of water to residents each day. Our wastewater system has 78 miles of sewage lines.
  • Our Parks and Recreation Department offers 253 acres of parkland, 20 miles of trails, 377 acres of open space, two indoor swimming pools, a water park, five tennis courts, two skate parks, an RV park, a highly rated public golf course, and a world-class kayaking course.
  • The city maintains a Moody’s rating of A-1 for our water bonds, a Standard & Poors rating of A for our sales and use tax bonds, and an AA- rating for our drainage utility bonds.

City of Golden 2010 Budget Available Online

While city budgets aren’t generally the most accessible of documents, Golden’s staff does a really good job of preparing a budget that is thorough and clear.  You can download it http://www.cityofgolden.net/files/2010%20Adopted%20Budget.pdf

If you ever have any questions about the budget, you can email them either to me or to the city’s Finance Director, Jeff Hansen (JHansen@cityofgolden.net).

Jacob’s Golden Update: Golden’s New Transit Feasibility Study and Other News

Jacob’s Golden Update: November 28, 2009

1. Golden’s New Transit Feasibility Study
2. Jackson Street Corridor Project in the Works
3. New Email Newsletters Serving Golden
4. Council Adopts 2009 Building Code Including Radon Protections
5. Golden Vision 2030: Listening to the Community’s Stories
6. New State Transportation Funding
7. Rocky Mountain Deaf School Wins Approval for New High School
8. Adopting the 2010 Budget
9. Cindy Stevenson Awarded “Superintendent of the Year”
10. Other Upcoming Events
11. Next City Council Meeting: Thursday, December 3

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[Read more…]

Jacob's Golden Update: Golden's New Transit Feasibility Study and Other News

Jacob’s Golden Update: November 28, 2009

1. Golden’s New Transit Feasibility Study
2. Jackson Street Corridor Project in the Works
3. New Email Newsletters Serving Golden
4. Council Adopts 2009 Building Code Including Radon Protections
5. Golden Vision 2030: Listening to the Community’s Stories
6. New State Transportation Funding
7. Rocky Mountain Deaf School Wins Approval for New High School
8. Adopting the 2010 Budget
9. Cindy Stevenson Awarded “Superintendent of the Year”
10. Other Upcoming Events
11. Next City Council Meeting: Thursday, December 3

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[Read more…]

Times are Tight

Council Bill Fisher has a nice post on his blog about some of the things the city and the City Council are doing to continue thoughtfully managing the financial climate.  For instance:

Last year we approved a tight budget for 2009 – and we’ve stayed on target. Tax revenues are down and so is spending. Cities like Denver are taking drastic action as they face $160 Million shortfalls. In contrast, Golden remains in great financial shape. Recently, one of our bond ratings got even better. Why? Ratings agencies know we watch the bottom line like a hawk.

Read the entire post.

Golden's Financial Health: In Strong Shape to Weather the Storm

In late December the City Council (signed by six of the seven Council members) sent a letter to every Golden resident with an overview of the city’s financial health. In short, Golden is in very strong shape to weather the financial challenges ahead. Here is the letter:

Dear Golden Resident,

The coming year promises to be economically challenging for the Denver region and the entire country.  While Golden hasn’t been hit as hard as other communities across Colorado, we know there are many in our community who are anxious about keeping their jobs, some of our neighbors are struggling to pay the bills, and many of our businesses are running on very tight margins.

Despite the challenges ahead, one thing you can have confidence in is the city’s financial condition.  As a result of steady, prudent management for many years now, the City of Golden is in excellent financial shape and is well prepared to weather the storm.  We have very strong cash reserves, Golden’s infrastructure (including our roads, water and wastewater systems, and our parks and trails) are in good shape and improving every year, and we have maintained a conservative debt policy, borrowing money for major capital projects only where doing so saves the community money and only within tight limits.

We also frequently receive independent confirmation of our stable and secure financial status.  For example, Standard and Poors recently notified us that they are upgrading the credit rating on our Drainage Utility Bonds.  In addition to careful budgeting practices, Golden uses a detailed Financial Trends Monitoring System that every year analyzes five-year trends for 30 different financial indicators.

The City Council and city staff will continue exercising even more caution and fiscal discipline in the coming year.  All indications are that we can continue to focus on providing high quality public safety services, maintaining and improving the community’s infrastructure, and making key investments in Golden’s economic health and quality of life.

In keeping with our commitment to fiscal discipline during this economic turmoil, our 2009 budget will be even more conservative than usual: freezing most hiring, cutting expenses, and delaying many projects until we are confident we can afford them.  And despite a very cautious approach focused on core services and improving quality of life, next year’s budget still maintains a safety reserve of at least 17% and possibly as high as 24%.  The City’s long-held policy is to be between 10% and 20%, so we should end the year with very strong cash reserves.

This budget is the result of many months of discussion, paring down expenses, hard choices, and some great work by the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee.  There are no guarantees, of course, but know that the city is in very good shape to weather the financial challenges ahead.

We all wish for you a peaceful and safe holiday season and a prosperous New Year.

Sincerely,

Jacob Smith, Mayor
Marjorie Sloan, District 1
Karen Oxman, Mayor-Pro Tem and District 2
Joe Behm, Ward 2
Diane Chesbro, Ward 3
Bill Fisher, Ward 4

Golden’s Financial Health: In Strong Shape to Weather the Storm

In late December the City Council (signed by six of the seven Council members) sent a letter to every Golden resident with an overview of the city’s financial health. In short, Golden is in very strong shape to weather the financial challenges ahead. Here is the letter:

Dear Golden Resident,

The coming year promises to be economically challenging for the Denver region and the entire country.  While Golden hasn’t been hit as hard as other communities across Colorado, we know there are many in our community who are anxious about keeping their jobs, some of our neighbors are struggling to pay the bills, and many of our businesses are running on very tight margins.

Despite the challenges ahead, one thing you can have confidence in is the city’s financial condition.  As a result of steady, prudent management for many years now, the City of Golden is in excellent financial shape and is well prepared to weather the storm.  We have very strong cash reserves, Golden’s infrastructure (including our roads, water and wastewater systems, and our parks and trails) are in good shape and improving every year, and we have maintained a conservative debt policy, borrowing money for major capital projects only where doing so saves the community money and only within tight limits.

We also frequently receive independent confirmation of our stable and secure financial status.  For example, Standard and Poors recently notified us that they are upgrading the credit rating on our Drainage Utility Bonds.  In addition to careful budgeting practices, Golden uses a detailed Financial Trends Monitoring System that every year analyzes five-year trends for 30 different financial indicators.

The City Council and city staff will continue exercising even more caution and fiscal discipline in the coming year.  All indications are that we can continue to focus on providing high quality public safety services, maintaining and improving the community’s infrastructure, and making key investments in Golden’s economic health and quality of life.

In keeping with our commitment to fiscal discipline during this economic turmoil, our 2009 budget will be even more conservative than usual: freezing most hiring, cutting expenses, and delaying many projects until we are confident we can afford them.  And despite a very cautious approach focused on core services and improving quality of life, next year’s budget still maintains a safety reserve of at least 17% and possibly as high as 24%.  The City’s long-held policy is to be between 10% and 20%, so we should end the year with very strong cash reserves.

This budget is the result of many months of discussion, paring down expenses, hard choices, and some great work by the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee.  There are no guarantees, of course, but know that the city is in very good shape to weather the financial challenges ahead.

We all wish for you a peaceful and safe holiday season and a prosperous New Year.

Sincerely,

Jacob Smith, Mayor
Marjorie Sloan, District 1
Karen Oxman, Mayor-Pro Tem and District 2
Joe Behm, Ward 2
Diane Chesbro, Ward 3
Bill Fisher, Ward 4

Some Responses to the Voice of Golden

The Voice of Golden has been deliberately spreading some wild claims about City Council, about me, and about Golden.  Every last one of them is misinformed, distorted, or fabricated.  Here are the facts.  As always, I’m happy to answer questions, provide more information, and share copies of all the documents.

Golden’s Energy Efficiency Program: A Responsible Bidding Process

The City of Golden adopted ambitious energy efficiency and other sustainability goals in 2007. As part of this Golden Sustainability Initiative, in June of 2007 the City of Golden published a Request for Proposals for companies interested in conducting an energy efficiency audit in the city and implementing the highest value energy efficiency projects identified by the audit. Six companies responded, four were selected for interviews, and the City Council unanimously (including Councilor Mary Weaver) selected the proposal submitted by the McKinstry firm. The project cost is $1,183,691, but Golden subsequently secured a $500,000 grant from the State of Colorado, dramatically reducing the total cost of the project. Some of the specific energy efficiency elements of the project include upgrading lighting inside and outside city’s buildings, installing a solar water heating system for the community center pool, and improving the city’s HVAC systems. Not only will these projects save Golden money every year, but within about twelve years we will have saved more than the entire cost of the project and we will continue to experience long-term energy savings and lower energy bills. In fact, because Golden received the half-million dollar grant, the payback period has been substantially reduced.

Golden’s Historic Museums: Fiscal Responsibility in Tough Times

The City of Golden owns three historical museums and contracts with non-profits to operate them.  The contracts were all up at the end of 2008, and the City Council conducted an intensive, thorough, and transparent proposal process.  After considering an independent audit of the museums, evaluations of each proposal prepared by a Technical Review Committee made up of museum and nonprofit experts, and considerable public comment, the City Council decided to unify management of all three museums under a single non-profit.  One organization is upset that they didn’t get their contract renewed.

Read more . . .

Golden’s Noise Mitigation Program: Reducing Highway Noise Impacts on Golden’s Neighborhoods

For fifteen years now, the City of Golden has had the goal of reducing noise levels in those neighborhoods affected by highway noise. The City Council crafted Golden’s noise mitigation policy with more than 3,000 citizen comments. Noise mitigation is difficult. Despite the significant challenges, including cost, topography, and the Colorado Department of Transportation, we continue making progress, such as the earthen berm along the west side of Highway 93. After years of wrangling with CDOT, the state finally granted permission to build a noise mitigation wall on the east side of Highway 93 near Virginia St. It is a fully-functional and permanent demonstration project that will substantially reduce the noise levels in nearby neighborhoods while incorporating materials that allow light to pass through parts of the wall so that the adjacent homes aren’t shaded out. Everyone in Golden will have a chance to see how the wall, with its translucent panels, works in a tight space like the one up there and see how it might work in other parts of Golden.

Read more . . .

My Home: A Straightforward Transaction

In September of 2007 I bought my first home in Golden. It’s part of a four-unit condominium complex and the two upstairs units are nearly identical. The builder sold both, one to me and one to a young Golden couple, for exactly the same price – $190,000. The Jefferson County tax records show that my neighbors paid $5,000 more. As our respective contracts clearly show, that’s because the developer paid $5,000 of their closing costs, which they consequently added to the amount they paid the builder above the $190,000 for the condo itself. I simply paid my closing costs directly. In other words, I paid exactly the same amount as my neighbors did for a virtually identical unit. I’m very pleased to be a homeowner in Golden and I love the neighborhood as well.

The Facts About City Council Executive Sessions

Nearly all of the Golden City Council’s business is conducted in open meetings. The meetings are televised and livestreamed on the web, they are archived on the web and at the public library, and anyone can attend in person any of these meetings. In rare instances and only on a very restricted number of issues, the City Council needs to meet in executive session. These nearly always have to do with personnel matters, taking legal advice from the city’s attorney, or discussing legal negotiations, where meeting in open session would either be illegal or would harm the community’s interests. In 2007, Councilor Mary Weaver sued everyone else on the City Council and the City of Golden, claiming that the City Council wasn’t following the proper procedure. She filed this lawsuit against the City Council (including herself!) without ever once having asked Council to consider making changes. We settled the lawsuit, agreeing to review and consider refining our procedures. City Council promptly did so, and made a small modification to our executive session procedures as a result, which we would have done had she simply asked. Councilor Weaver voted against that change and subsequently attempted to undo the settlement, going back on her commitment in the settlement agreement and costing the Golden taxpayers even more money than the lawsuit wasted in the first place.

Read more . . .

Support for my Golden Mayoral Campaign: Broad and Bipartisan

When I ran for mayor in 2007, I knew it would be a tough race. One of my opponents was the well-respected incumbent mayor. Incumbents almost always have the advantage, and I knew I’d have to work hard and raise some money to communicate to everyone in Golden who I am, my track record, and my values. Marian Olson and the Voice of Golden ran a candidate as well – Mary Weaver – and spent $23,000 supporting her. I sent a letter to all of my friends and family asking them to support my campaign. Many of them did, and I thank them for their trust and support. I also received an extraordinary amount of support from Golden residents. More than twice as many Golden residents made contributions to my campaign than both of my opponents combined. In both of my City Council races and in my mayoral race I earned the broad support of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike precisely because my politics are common sense and pragmatic. Although reasonable people will disagree on issues, including some of the most important ones, we should be able to work through our differences of opinion, make decisions, and keep Golden moving forward.

Read more . . .

Funding for Jefferson County Schools

The City Council occasionally weighs in on regional or statewide issues when we believe the issue impacts Golden in a direct and significant way. For this reason, the City Council this fall passed a resolution in support of two bipartisan school funding measures. Both measures had widespread support from Democrats and Republicans, the business community, teachers, parents, and many others. The funding would have been used for school repairs, renovation of older schools, improving safety within the school district, expanding job skills and technical training, expanded math and science offerings, and other related expenses. The quality of our schools is a critical issue for Golden residents: many of our residents have kids in the school system and care a great deal that our schools are adequately funded, our property values are closely tied to the quality of our schools, the quality of neighborhoods is directly affected by the quality of our schools.

How do the city councilors treat members of the community with a wide diversity of perspectives?

Members of the city staff and the City Council work hard to treat everyone professionally and respectfully. Every regular business meeting of the City Council has a public comment period where anyone can make comments about any issue. If there are a larger number of people who wish to speak, I will usually adopt a strict time limit so that everyone gets an opportunity to speak and has the same amount of time as everyone else. City Council and City staff take all comments and suggestions seriously, and seriously consider all opinions offered by members of the community. However, on many issues, any decision that City Council could make will have support from some people and opposition from others. Most people will disagree with at least some of the decisions that the City Council makes, but our decision making is always transparent and respectful. The City Council and city staff’s obligations include listening to everyone who wants to weigh in, carefully considering all of the available information and all of the perspectives, and then using our best judgment to make decisions that are good for Golden even when members of the Golden community don’t agree on what the best answer is.

Does everybody always get what they want from city council?

Most people won’t agree with every single decision the City Council makes. On most important issues, in fact, the community itself is divided in its views. The City Council must carefully consider everyone’s perspective, but on most important decisions there will be people who agree with and disagree with the outcome.

My Day Job

I’ve worked in the non-profit world for about fifteen years now. I am currently the executive director of a small philanthropic foundation that supports education and conservation work. I work half-time and have a great deal of scheduling flexibility, which makes this a great day job to go along with my role as Golden’s mayor. Prior to my current employment, I founded and led a conservation group based in Denver. After nine years of growing the organization, creating jobs, and working to protect wildlife habitat across Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, I transitioned to my current job after become mayor.

The Voice of Golden’s Old Grudges

Marian and the Voice of Golden love to dig up their old grudges. Some of them have merit and some don’t. Either way, things that happened years ago don’t have anything to do with the current City Council.

Golden Vision 2030: Charting Our Own Course

The coming year will include a particularly important community process: Golden Vision 2030. We’ll be asking the entire Golden community to answer a deceptively complicated question: “What’s your vision for Golden in 2030?”

Why is this important? For one thing, despite our 1% residential growth limit, Golden will continue to experience growth pressure, both inside Golden and in the areas around our community. The Golden Vision 2030 process is a critical opportunity to shape those changes rather than have those changes simply happen to us.

Over the past couple of years we’ve already done some work that will help form the basis for our new Golden Vision 2030, such as our neighborhood plans, our Sustainability Initiative, and our Walkability, Bikeability, and Housing Affordability Task Forces. But most of the hard work is still ahead of us, and we’ll need to weave all of this together along with our commitment to sustained economic vitality, our social and cultural elements, and land use.

With financial support through a $100,000 grant from the Orton Family Foundation for our community visioning and planning process, we will energetically invite participation from everyone in the community. We are also creating a diverse “Local Advisory Committee” to help guide the process, which includes someone from the Chamber of Commerce, the Golden Cultural Alliance, the school district, Jefferson County, Colorado School of Mines, and a representative from each of most of the city’s boards and commissions.

If you have any opinions at all about the future of Golden – what you want Golden to be like in twenty years – then please participate in this important process. Stay tuned . . .

Golden’s Historic Museums: Fiscal Responsibility in Tough Times

The City of Golden owns three history museums: Astor House, Clear Creek History Park, and the Pioneer Museum. One local non-profit organization has had the contract to run Astor House and Clear Creek while another has had the contract for the Pioneer Museum. Because both of the contracts were expiring at the end of 2008, City Council published a Request for Proposals inviting the current operators and anyone else who might be interested in running the museums to submit proposals for consideration. Although it would undoubtedly have been easier simply to renew the current contracts, I believe periodically inviting proposals like this is a good policy because it requires the current operators to make the case for maintaining their current role and it allows the community to entertain other options.

Each of the current operators submitted proposals, and the city submitted as well. Because city staff submitted a proposal, we firewalled them from the process. The process was extensive, rigorous, and extremely transparent. It included an independent audit of all three museums, evaluations of all the submitted proposals by a Technical Review Committee of museum and non-profit experts, and a great deal of public comment.  I’m happy to share these documents with anyone who cares to review them.

The questions asked of City Council: should we unify all three museums under one operator, and if we unify who should the single operator be?  After considering all of the available information and the many comments offered by members of the community, the City Council made the difficult decision to unify management of Golden’s historical museums and to award the contract to the Friends of Astor House based on the strength of their proposal.  Theirs was the strongest proposal, they offered the most for the money, and they seemed most likely to successfully unify all three of Golden’s historical museums.

The non-profit running the Pioneer Museum – the one that did not get its contract renewed – has taken a scorched earth approach, attempting to claim ownership of many of the community’s historical artifacts and generally making the transition as difficult as possible.  The Golden Transcript recently chastised them for appearing to have adopted the attitude that: “if they can’t have the museum and its collection, then nobody will.”  The risk to the community’s historical artifacts was severe enough that the City of Golden asked the courts to intervene.  The city’s lawsuit was in response to reports that the current museum managers have been improperly packaging and possibly removing items owned by the community without the permission or authority to do so.

The city and the Pioneer Museum management recently reached a partial settlement, agreeing to work with the court to resolve disputes about ownership of the various artifacts.  The city is working hard to make this happen.  We hired, on a temporary basis, a former curator of the Pioneer Museum and we are dedicating additional staff time to resolve the dispute, protect the community’s historic artifacts, and help the Friends non-profit build the best historic museums Golden has ever had.