City council wants to prioritize public safety in budgets as Boulder faces $375M in unfunded needs


Photo by Michael Longmire on Unsplash

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The fate of Boulder’s $40 million property at Alpine-Balsam may have dominated discussion Tuesday night, but there were other budget priorities to be decided as well. Boulder has $375 million in projects, services and programs that need to be paid for in coming years, and no clear plan on where the money will come from.

Some are critical: replacing the aged software systems for the municipal court and fire department, or keeping the library running. Others are long-time community wants, such as the $4.8 million purchase of a conservation easement to save Long’s Gardens. A couple are pet projects, like re-installing doors on the east side of the municipal building, recently trumpeted by councilwoman Lisa Morzel.

There was some criticism from council about items that were included on the list. Things like an $8 million open space campus seemed more wants than needs, council members felt.

“This kinda feels like a wishlist of everything everyone could think of,” said councilman Bob Yates. He asked that staff make recommendations on what should be given higher priority.

City Manager Jane Brautigam pushed back against that assertion. Everything on the list was something that “some important person in the city has really made an effort around.”

Kady Doelling, Boulder’s chief budget officer, said the list was meant as a compilation of the many things council has expressed are worthy of investment. Its purpose is to spark the very discussion council was having on prioritization.

“While this is seemingly shock and awe,” Doelling said, “this is an introduction to a conversation that is going to be iterative.”

Short on time, council focused on the most immediate funding needs, things that will need to be paid for in 2019 or 2020. Some monies are available via excess funds from 2018, or can be allocated as one-time expenses during the 2020 budget process, beginning now.

Most members of council emphasized health and safety spending. That includes keeping our roads in good shape, said councilman Aaron Brockett, as the potholes and cracks in roads and sidewalks can pose serious risks.

“We need to pay more attention to the state of our streets,” he said. “Looking around as I walk and bike and drive, I feel like we’re not (taking care) of our infrastructure.”

The Long’s Gardens item, which councilwoman Mirabai Nagle said was a priority for her, won’t be budgeted for in 2020. Similarly, a new middle-income down payment assistance program was taken off the list of immediate needs, per Sam Weaver’s request, because it can be funded using existing resources.

Although the 2019 budget included $5.6 million in reductions from general fund expenditures, due to declining sales tax, Boulder finished 2018 in a slightly stronger financial position than anticipated. Retail sales tax revenue ended the year up 2.8% overall (though considerably below surrounding communities and slightly less than the rate of inflation).

City officials believe sales tax growth is likely to remain flat over the next several years, averaging 2-3% growth annually through 2025. If a long-expected economic recession hits, Boulder could see negligible growth or declines in sales tax revenue.

To view a Twitter thread of this council discussion, click here.

— Shay Castle,, @shayshinecastle
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$375M in unfunded projects

By category:

Critical facility investments: $188.79M

Increased community demand: $59.425M

End of lifecycle technology replacement: $6M

Climate initiatives: $5.025M

Improvements of public space amenities: $63.163M

New city business/service opportunities: $54.48M

Workforce recruitment/retention: $2.5M

By timing:

Immediate (2019-2020): $48.406M

Intermediate (2021-2024): $204.909M

Long-term (2025 and beyond, or projects with no timeline): $125.668M

A full list of projects, by timing and category


Critical facility investments ($25.65M)

Fire Station No. 3 construction: $7.5M

Alpine Balsam deconstruction: $15.2M

Fire station deficiencies: $1.75M

Re-installing east entry doors at municipal  building: $700K

End of lifecycle technology replacements ($2M)

Boulder fire records management system: $650K

Customer relationship mgt. system: $750K

Municipal court software: $650K

Increased community demand ($10.806M)

Transit service expansion: $5.72M

Transportation core maintenance/ops: $3.6M

Radio services ops/equip: $950K

Maintain library services at current level: $536K

New city business/service opportunities ($3M)

Middle-income housing strategy: $3M

Public space amenity improvements ($4.8M)

Purchase of conservation easement at Long’s Garden: $4.8M

Workforce retention ($2.5M)

Living wage increase to $17.42/hr: $1.5M

PERA adjustment: $1M


Critical facility investments ($124.5M)

Fire Station No. 2 relocation: $20M

Fire Station No. 4 relocation: $20M

OSMP future campus: $8M

City facility maintenance backlog: $1.7M

Renovation for New Britain, Park Central (if no pavilion by 2024): $2M

Alpine Balsam Pavilion remodel: $58M

Alpine Balsam infrastructure: $12M

Deconstruction of New Britain, Park Central: $2M

Leases for New Britain, Park Central (if no pavilion by 2024): $800K

End of lifecycle technology replacement ($3M)

HR and financial systems: $3M

Increased community demand ($40.929M)

Parking subsidies and alternative transit for downtown workers: $1.5M

Pearl Street Mall refresh: $4M

Traffic signal connections to broadband: $9.6M

Uni Hill public right-of-way improvements: $1.2M

Vision Zero: $1.3M

Library Master Plan service expansion: $6.531M

NoBo Library operations: $3.598M

Supplemental support for Eco Pass: $1.2M

Transportation Master Plan: $12M

New city business/service opportunities ($36.48M)

Fire EMS startup costs: $4.1M

CU South open space purchase: $18M

14 electric HOP buses: $11.08M

Fire EMS annual operating costs: $3.3M


Climate initiatives $5.025M (various programs)

End of lifecycle technology replacement: $1M (citywide conference rooms)

New city business/service opportunities: $15M (affordable housing goal)

Critical facility improvements ($38.64M)

Rec center and indoor pool improvements: $8.64M

Police building expansion (25-30K extra sq ft needed): $30M

Increased community demand ($7.69M)

Small biz strategy (including affordable commercial spaces): $1.15M

Hill hotel public plaza: $3M

Gunbarrel Library + Canyon Theater, other library expanded services: $3.54M

Public space amenity improvements ($58.363M)

Boulder Civic Area Phase 2: $8M

Valmont City Park Phase 2: $6.45M

Park development in Violet and Eaton neighborhoods: $4.965M

East Mapleton ball fields relocated to Stazio: $7.3M

Boulder Reservoir enhancements: $11.6M

Historic/cultural facility improvements (Chautauqua, Harbeck, etc.): $2.758M

Sports complexes and athletic field improvements: $5.24M

Park enhancements: $12M

This list of projects, including brief explanations, can be found on pages 13-18 of the council packet for the April 9 study session.


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