Boulder furloughing 737 workers as city tightens budget due to COVID-19

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BOULDER, Colo. (KDVR) — The City of Boulder has a problem that every municipality in Colorado is currently grappling with: How to provide essential services when the main source of revenue has been crushed by COVID-19?

The lack of sales and lodging tax money pumping into the city’s account is forcing drastic action. Boulder froze 83 hirings for city positions and furloughed 737 employees through late June. Those moves add up to roughly $9.5 million in savings, according to spokesperson Patrick von Keyserling. 

But even those measures don’t add up to an estimated $28 million loss in revenue. 

“The university sent people home and our population decreased by about 30,000 people,” von Keyserling said. “About 60 percent of our city workforce commutes into Boulder. Those folks aren’t coming in and spending their dollars in Boulder during the day.”

The furlough includes 175 standard staff members, making up 13% of the whole, and 562 seasonal and temporary staff members, representing 95% of that workforce. 

Employees with health care benefits will continue to receive them during their time off without pay.

Despite those savings, the city will have to consider delaying or canceling projects, and may have to budget for the loss in revenue beyond 2020. 

And while Colorado municipalities like Boulder have strong reserves for emergencies, they have to keep their eyes on the potential weather-related disasters that could come this summer.

“We don’t know how long it will last, and those reserves are in place in case we have a wildfire or a flood, and those seasons are coming up shortly,” von Keyserling said. 

Denver is dealing with similar financial issues, anticipating a $180 million impact to the general fund from a lack of sales and use tax revenue. 

Julie Smith, a spokesperson for Denver’s Department of Finance, says the city froze hirings, and has a general fund reserve of $261 million. They’ve asked departments and agencies to look at cutting budgets by 7.5% to help identify $100 million worth of savings.

Smith says Denver is not implementing furloughs, but it could be used for temporary savings if needed. It’s a last resort.

Denver is the only city in Colorado that has a population over 500,000 and is eligible for direct financial relief through the CARES Act, singed into law by President Donald Trump. 

Smith says they’re filing out the paperwork, but doesn’t know how much aid Denver could receive.

Every Colorado city is also eligible to apply for FEMA compensation, since Colorado’s disaster declaration was approved by the administration. 

Rep. Joe Neguse called Boulder’s furlough situation “deeply unfortunate and reflective of the crisis we find ourselves in.” Last week, Neguse introduced a bill that would provide $250 billion in relief to cities and towns below that 500,000 threshold, including Boulder, Loveland and Fort Collins in his district.

“With no population limit, so every city, every county here in our wonderful state can access these critical federal resources,” Neguse said.

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