by Davis B. Reinhart
In May the City Council held its annual strategic retreat. We set aside specific issues of the day to focus on ensuring Wheat Ridge’s vitality in the future. And that means the city’s long term financial sustainability.
This Council has a budget policy built on the prudence of its predecessors. Wheat Ridge has no debt, a solid cash reserve policy, and the lowest city taxes in the region. Our core staff has stayed the same, so growth in the budget has matched inflation for 20 years. We have been able to add police, and new recreation center staff is paid by fees.
But what got the most attention from Council were the city’s hard assets—streets, sidewalks, structures, rolling stock, equipment and parks. During the economic downturn we cut payroll with furloughs and freezes but fell behind on the routine facilities maintenance. We are millions behind on street repaving alone. With an aging infrastructure this can only get worse.
Capital construction has lagged, too. This year undertook more than $9 million of needed projects: Ridge Road Storm Sewer, 32nd Avenue Widening, 29th Avenue Storm Sewer, and the Wadsworth Gateway Sign. By drawing down our strategic reserved $2.1 million, in accordance with our new reserve policy, we obtained $4.5 million in matching funds from the state and regional agencies.
That’s a signal that we need a more sustainable income stream. Wheat Ridge has many tens of millions of dollars’ worth of prudent and necessary infrastructure projects. As the city’s stewards, the Council and your neighbors see the need for improvements all around us: drainage improvement along Chase Street to protect residents’ houses and yards; improvements on 38th Avenue west of Kipling to let children walk safely to the elementary school; storm drainage in District 4 to cut flood risk north of Clear Creek and save homeowners thousands of dollars on flood insurance. Fully building just those projects would require in excess of $10 million. We simply can’t fund major capital improvements with our $35 million annual budget and fully commit to operations.
That’s Council’s focus now because in Wheat Ridge we attract families and businesses because of our great look and feel—the deep roots, short commutes, and nice neighborhoods thing. A lot of our appeal is how nice the streets and rights of way look, the beauty and amenities of our parks, the rec center, and our commitment to vital business districts. Above all, we want to sustain and improve desirable neighborhoods for all of us who live in them now and those who want to join us by investing in a Wheat Ridge home.