Boulder City Council Reverses Budget Cuts to Arts, Libraries and More

The coronavirus pandemic is not letting up, and that doesn’t help local municipalities trying to pass budgets for 2021. Boulder City Council took up next year’s recommended budget last night and as KGNU’s Roz Brown reports, dozens of citizens begged for a reprieve from cuts to the arts, libraries and housing and human services.

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Boulder City Manager Jane Brautigam presented the 2021 budget draft to Boulder City Council members last night.

“As you know it was a really difficult budget year for us, and for the entire community to make this budget match the declining revenues that we have experienced,” said Brautigam.

Declines are particularly true for sales and use tax collected by the city make up nearly 40% of Boulder’s revenues. With restaurants closed or with limited seating and many retail businesses on the ropes, the city expects an 11% percent decline in those revenues next year. As proposed, the $341 million budget includes a nearly eight percent decrease from the 2020 budget. But there’s always a little wiggle-room based on city reserves. During a virtual public hearing, Riley Mancuso argued against cuts to the library.

“The fact that we’ve shut down several libraries and need to reduce services is why libraries need support now more than ever,” said Mancuso.

Jeff Martinez, president of the Boulder Association of Firefighters reminded council that recommended cuts to Boulder and Fire Rescue would send the wrong message to first responders.

“This nationwide pandemic has changed our jobs and lives forever,” said Martinez. “I’m here to ask you to stand behind firefighters by not allowing your frontline engines to be shutdown by budget cuts.”

The proposed budget also includes furloughs for most employees and no merit pay increase for nonunion city employees. But it was the 17% proposed cut to the arts grant fund that raised the most concern.

Melissa Fathman, executive director of the Dairy Arts Center shared the organization’s struggles.

“The Dairy is currently experiencing an 85% reduction in earned revenue due to COVID and if the pandemic continues and theaters remain closed next March, we’re talking about well over a million dollars in revenue losses,” Fathman told council. “And the longer it goes on, the bigger the loss.”

Former city councilmember Jan Burton also argued that COVID-19 should not be allowed to reverse progress Boulder has made in funding for the arts and came prepared to make a deal.

“Tonight I represent Create Boulder, a non-profit that is proposing that council increase funding for arts and culture grants,” said Burton. “If council will add $100,000 back to the arts budget, Create Boulder will raise and contribute $50,000 therefore ensuring arts grant funding remains at the 2020 level.”

Coincidentally, two reports out this week rank Boulder among the top arts communities in the nation – a fact acknowledged by Councilman Aaron Brockett.

“I do support adding back arts grants funding,” said Brockett. “The arts are facing an existential crisis in our community and across the country because they can’t hold in-person performances which means this is an area of unique need, and if we lose them now, they may never come back.”

By the end of the discussion, council had agreed to add back $200,000 to Housing and Human Services, $160,000 to the fire department, $100,000 to the library budget, and $100,000 for arts grants, accepting the Create Boulder offer to raise another $50,000.

A second hearing on the city budget will be held October 20.