Loveland City Council having ‘tough conversation’ on 2025 budget – Loveland Reporter-Herald

There was plenty of disagreement over what to prioritize during the Loveland City Council’s discussion of the 2025 budget cuts on Tuesday, but there was near-unanimous agreement that the city must quickly find a new revenue stream to offset them.

By the end of the long and wide-ranging conversation, nearly all council members expressed support for raising taxes or fees on things like housing and tobacco, or going back to voters in November for a sales tax increase.

“I would be in favor of a sales tax with a sunset because I think residents would be more likely to vote for it,” Councilwoman Laura Light-Kovacs said. “And I think we need to be specific about where the money goes so that voters feel more comfortable voting for it.”

Tuesday’s discussion was the second on the so-called “austerity” budget for 2025, which faces $12 million to $13 million in cuts due to the elimination of the city’s sales tax on food for home consumption. According to Acting City Manager Rod Wensing, this is the first time in history that the city has faced such a large deficit that is ongoing and not the result of a one-time disaster or recession.

On April 30, Wensing, his acting deputy Mark Jackson and representatives of the city’s finance team presented the council with the first draft of the austerity plan, which included deep cuts to “public” services such as the library, parks and recreation. in favor of public security services, which faced less significant cuts.

On Tuesday, Wensing and his team returned with a follow-up that incorporated the council’s feedback and presented two alternative reduction scenarios, one that focused more cuts on fire and police, and one that further cut the library and parks. The challenge with that, the acting city manager explained, is that the exercise was a “zero-sum game.”

“This is a difficult conversation for communities,” Wensing said. “It is a difficult conversation for the organization. I wish we weren’t here to have this conversation. But here we are.”

When questioned by council members, no strong support emerged for any of the proposed alternatives. Nearly all council members expressed concern about the idea of ​​cutting police programs such as school staff and co-responders, but council members Erin Black and Light-Kovacs also expressed strong support for the library, arguing that it should be considered a piece of public safety must be considered.

“There is a lot of research showing that libraries reduce crime and provide safety and security to these vulnerable populations,” Light-Kovacs said.

Councilors Dana Foley and Pat McFall spoke out more forcefully in favor of public safety departments, arguing that police and fire are among a city’s more basic responsibilities, along with transportation and infrastructure.

There was consensus among council members on the issue of generating more revenue for the city to cover the deficit, but less agreement on how to do that.

Many members expressed support for raising so-called “sin taxes” or increasing seat prices at the Rialto and Blue Arena. Mayor Jacki Marsh has also been a strong proponent of increasing the city’s tourism efforts and attracting more visitors heading to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Most also agreed that a sales tax increase approved by voters would be the quickest way out. The city’s finance team estimates that a 0.5% increase from 2025 would generate nearly $9 million, and a 0.75% increase would generate $13.2 million.

But there was also a lot of skepticism about its approval. Loveland voters have not approved a sales tax increase since the 1980s, and voted no on a 0.37% fire safety increase in 2023.

Council members will have a chance to debate the potential ballot question again next month, when Wensing and his team return with their third presentation, which will include more details about