In a sign of a slowly recovering economy, Boulder is proposing a $462.5 million budget for 2022 — $100 million more than Boulder City Council approved in 2021.

The current proposal focuses largely on restoring services that were cut during the pandemic. According to the city, it prioritizes those with the greatest impact on Boulder residents and visitors and takes into account new issues that arose during the pandemic.

Boulder Station 3 firefighters Thomas Spannring, left, and Jason Moat, check equipment on a fire truck Wednesday. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

It’s based on the expectation that revenue sources are returning to normal levels after declines in 2020 and 2021.

“The past 18 months have tested governments and communities around the world. The combination of a dramatic reduction in resources with increased needs has been painful for us all,” City Manager Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde wrote in a letter that prefaces the recommended budget.

The operating portion of the budget is $300.1 million with a $162.4 million capital budget, a 128% increase due to a planned bond issuance for Boulder’s utilities fund.

Boulder finance staff took a “strategic look” when prioritizing requests for service restorations. Additional staff for the Boulder Public Library system, the West Age Well Center and the city’s Planning and Development Services department are among the various departments set to get new staff if the 2022 budget is approved.

Additionally, the city intends to continue its efforts to clear encampments in downtown Boulder and along South Boulder Creek with financial support for its downtown ambassador program and internal “cleanup team.” Boulder City Council allocated almost $3 million for this earlier this year, a move that drew mixed reactions from the public.

In addition to staffing, Boulder is planning to provide programmatic funding for recreation center operations, cultural grants, engagement and outreach to under-served communities and more.

Investment in staff

The City Council last year approved a $341.7 million budget. Largely because of the financial impact from the coronavirus pandemic, which shuttered businesses and closed government offices, Boulder laid off and furloughed employees and declined to offer pay increases to staff.

The proposed 2022 budget, if approved, would add almost 60 full-time positions and would extend 18 short-term contract positions.

Further, city employees will be eligible for merit pay increases, based on annual evaluations, or for those who are members of bargaining units, agreed upon contracts.

All of this recognizes “the staggering impact staffing reductions in 2020 and 2021 had on the ability of the city to serve the community,” according to a city news release.

“Our workforce is our most important asset,” Rivera-Vandermyde stated in the release. “City employees truly value public service and have demonstrated once again that they step up to ensure the well-being of our community in times of crisis. It is important that we retain this talent so we can continue to meet pressing public needs.”

In the past few years, Boulder Fire-Rescue has struggled to staff its engines, according to Chief Michael Calderazzo. Although the department has brought on new wildland firefighters, Calderazzo said he cannot recall a time when the city allocated additional funds for the “everyday” firefighters that staff stations daily since he was hired eight years ago.

“We’ve discovered that our authorized staffing levels haven’t been enough to make sure that we’re not burning out our people with overtime,” he said.

“We’ve been having to force firefighters to work overtime shifts because we simply didn’t have enough,” Calderazzo added.

Currently, the department has been authorized to hire three additional firefighters, one to cover each of the three shifts. In order to do so, the city has allocated a one-time cost of $64,200 with an ongoing expense of $287,184.

While Calderazzo doesn’t expect a challenge recruiting new firefighters, he said he hopes to focus on diversity with the funding.

Boulder City Council will discuss the budget in a Sept. 28 public hearing. The second reading is set for Oct. 19. At that time, the council will have another public hearing and vote on the upcoming year’s spending plan.

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