The City of Leadville, with the help of increased sales tax revenue, is prioritizing salary increases for employees and staff retention as it creates its 2021 budget.

Despite the national economic slowdown as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the city has seen a steady increase in sales tax, the bulk of its income, throughout 2020.

So far this year, the city has brought in roughly $600,000 more than it had budgeted for, Mayor Greg Labbe said.

“Sales tax has definitely been good to us this year,” Labbe said.

Though they are not sure what to attribute the increase to, city officials plan to use the extra revenue to increase next year’s budget and address some outstanding issues, he said.

Chief among those is the wage gap between city and county positions.

For years, the city and county have struggled to address the disparity between wages across departments, and next year’s budget is designed to start resolving the problem, Labbe told the Herald.

Leadville sees this issue predominantly in law enforcement. The Leadville Police Department (LPD) has lost multiple officers this year who joined the Lake County Sheriff’s Office for the higher pay scale, Labbe said.

Other departments also see a similar gap in what city employees earn compared to those in similar positions at the county.

In an effort to address this, the city raised its salary budget by approximately $250,000 for 2021. Nearly every department will see a salary increase next year except for the animal shelter.

One department that has been of particular focus for this budget cycle is Leadville/Lake County Fire Rescue (LLCFR), Labbe said.

The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Responders grant, a federal program the department has been relying on to fund its resident reserve firefighters program, expires at the end of 2020, and it is not clear if LLCFR will be able to renew the grant.

In order to keep the existing resident reserve firefighters, which have helped maintain adequate local fire response and been used for wildland firefighting efforts outside Lake County, the city has earmarked $99,000 in 2021 to retain six resident reserve staff with LLCFR.

Though the funding is necessary for the time being, it is a stop-gap measure that likely cannot last, Labbe said. “We have to do what we have to do to keep our fire department whole,” the mayor explained.

The city will also begin paying $85,200, to be amortized over 10 years, towards the completion of the southern fire station.

In addition to salary increases and funding for staff retention, the city will spend money on equipment acquisition and maintenance in 2021.

The city is working to bring LPD into compliance with Senate Bill 20-217, the state initiative aimed at increasing accountability among law enforcement agencies throughout Colorado. The efforts include a $45,000 designation in next year’s budget for body cameras to be worn by LPD officers, as required under the bill.

Though LPD already has body cameras, Labbe said the existing ones are insufficient in meeting the standards required under SB20-217.

The city has also designated approximately $50,000 to repair deteriorating sidewalks around town, and hopes to move forward with that effort in the spring.

Most of the efforts undertaken by the city in 2021 are made possible by the jump in sales tax this year, Labbe said. City officials waited to begin the budget-making process later than usual this year in hopes of having as much income data as possible to help inform next year’s expenditures.

“I keep expecting to see some fall in sales tax data,” Labbe said. While he has anticipated it, no decline has come yet.

As it stands, the city still has a $15,000 deficit in the 2021 budget, which needs to be addressed before the city is mandated to adopt the final budget on December 31. Labbe said he is hopeful that the process will be complete by mid-December.

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