Council stands united in passing budget

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Littleton City Council passed the city’s 2014 budget Oct. 15 without having to shut down the government even once.

The only sticking point came over adding a marketing specialist, at a total cost of about $387,000 for personnel and events.

“It’s all about partnerships,” said Kelli Narde, the city’s director of communications. “There’s been some discussion in the community that this is some kind of high-priced party planner. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

According to City Manager Michael Penny, increased funding to special events will up their quality and quantity, bringing in new visitors and revenue. He anticipates spending $35,000 on a downtown branding and sign plan, and $17,500 on marketing.

He notes that residents indicated strong support for Littleton to increase its self-promotion in both the business and citizen surveys conducted last year. Eighty percent of residents said it’s essential or very important, and 97 percent of businesses said they support strengthening the community’s image.

But three residents spoke out against the proposal during the budget hearing, saying the private sector should take care of marketing itself, and the government should stick to infrastructure.

“If council takes care of the people who live here, and they take care of the businesses that are here … you wouldn’t have to go out and get a trumpet to talk about it,” said Jack Randall.

Councilor Jerry Valdes agreed, but noted competition from surrounding communities is getting more intense.

“I do think the city needs to play a role without interfering,” he said.

Councilor Peggy Cole got no support for amendment that would have deleted it from the budget. She said although she initially was a big supporter of the idea, she wanted to see a more detailed job description.

Councilor Bruce Beckman agreed, but wants to move forward while ensuring council is involved in the efforts. He noted that Trader Joe’s looked hard at Littleton but ended up selecting a location just over the border, at University Boulevard and Orchard Road.

“I wondered who was out there telling Littleton’s story,” he said.

Mayor Debbie Brinkman agreed.

“I don’t want people to go across borders to attend an event that really should be happening here,” she said. “If we want to continue to do the best we can with what we have, then we’re going to continue to do exactly what we’re doing.”

Things are looking up overall, according to the unanimously approved budget. The city expects to take in about $52.5 million next year, a 4.2 percent increase over what it expects to take in this year. Sales and use taxes, the city’s major revenue source, are expected to near $28 million in 2014, up from a recent low of about $22 million in 2010.

Most of the general fund goes to personnel expenses, which will be about $38 million in 2014. The budget allows a 3 percent increase for city employees, though a citizens’ committee is in the process of reviewing how it would be distributed to remain a competitive employer.

Residents will see a 2 percent jump in their sewer rates in 2014 to offset future improvements that will be required by state and federal regulations. Library late fees will also go up, from a dime to 20 cents a day. Little’s Creek Park’s lake will be dredged, the Littleton Community Trail will be extended to Littleton Boulevard and another $1 million would be allotted to South Platte River projects.

The council chambers and city manager’s office will be remodeled, at a cost of about $194,000.

New programs the budget creates include an expansion of business revitalization grants from $50,000 to $75,000 and a neighborhood partnership program.

“Projections show that without new or expanded revenues, expenditures will continue to increase faster than the growth in revenues,” Penny wrote in the document. “With this challenge, we continue reviewing our operations for efficiencies and improvements, and to find better ways to provide our services within the constraints we face. This year’s budget sets the stage for a comprehensive conversation which is based upon a fiscally sound plan allowing the city to discuss and address community priorities, support essential services, continue to invest in our staff resource and provide for continued investment in capital improvements.”