Boulder’s City Council devoted a significant portion of its study session Thursday evening to discussing a long-term financial strategy that will enable the city to implement its Facilities Master Plan.
The FMP, which was accepted by the Council in October 2021, “encompasses a holistic view of the city’s entire building portfolio and provides a strategic framework to guide investments that provide environmental sustainability, social responsibility and financial stewardship in city buildings,” according to a city memo.
City Architect Michele Crane, who gave a presentation on the financial plan for the FMP, noted the city’s current portfolio includes 75 buildings that encompass 1,870,326 square feet of space and have a combined value of $707,000,000. Crane said many of these buildings are aging and are near the end of their functional life.
“Holistically, our building portfolio is in poor condition,” Crane said during her presentation. She added the city’s buildings will cross into critical condition just past 2030 if Boulder maintains its current approach to investment. Some — such as the North, East, and South Boulder Recreation Centers — are at, near, or past an “inflection point” where it makes sense to question the feasibility of continued investment.
In recent years, the city has invested large sums of money in reactive (rather than proactive) facility repairs, fixing failing infrastructure only after it starts to break down — an approach that “results in the most spending and least progress toward any citywide goals,” the city memo stated. Many of the older buildings are also not in alignment with city climate goals. Additionally, the city lacks the funds to make the needed repairs on all its buildings.
The long-term financial plan presented Thursday evening proposes to address these problems through a two-pronged approach: disposing of some city properties and “ring-fencing” (or providing a virtual barrier for) savings generated through increased efficiency to funnel into new building projects.
As part of the FMP discussion, the Council received an update on the development project at the old Alpine-Balsam hospital site. The area is being redeveloped into a Western City Campus, which will enable the consolidation of staff and community services and will also include some affordable housing. The catch, though, is that the city will need to use city dollars, obtain grants and other outside funding, and sell some of its current buildings to get the funds for the project. Even then, the city will still need to finance the remaining costs.
During a councilmember Q & A session, Councilmember Nicole Speer asked, “Will we end up in a place where we’re not having to sell buildings to pay for the maintenance of buildings that we really should have been saving some money for and dealing with decades ago?”
In response, Crane mentioned the FMP’s Maintain Well initiative, which stipulates that 2 to 4% of buildings’ replacement cost be put toward needed maintenance each year. “We don’t want to be back in this position,” Crane said.
Councilmembers across the board agreed with the approach to selling properties and using the proceeds to fund new capital projects, using ring-fencing captured savings to finance debt payments and investigating public-private partnerships as possible sources of funding.
Councilmembers also received an update on progress toward establishing a regional minimum wage, a project spearheaded by Councilmember Lauren Folkerts and City Council Administrator Taylor Reimann in collaboration with the Boulder County Consortium of Cities. The effort began after the Colorado State Legislature passed a law in 2019 allowing local governments to set their own minimum wage.
In her presentation, Reimann proposed aligning the regional minimum wage with one of three goal posts: the Colorado Center for Law and Policy’s self-sufficiency proposal, which calls for raising the minimum wage to $15.41 in 2024 and increasing by 12.9% each year until 2028 (with an ultimate target of $25 per hour target); Boulder’s workforce living wage, or neighboring cities such as Denver.
Reimann advocated an ambitious timeline of increasing the regional minimum wage by January 1, 2024. Councilmembers generally favored moving ahead with a regional approach to a minimum wage, though some, such as Councilmember Bob Yates and Mayor Pro Tem Mark Wallach, expressed skepticism that a sufficient amount of community engagement could be accomplished in the next seven months.
Additionally, councilmembers heard a presentation and gave feedback on possible additional leave benefits for seasonal and temporary workers. The discussion came after the Council voted in November to decline participation in Colorado’s Family and Medical Leave Insurance program.
The main provisions of the proposed Boulder leave plan are that all seasonal and temporary employees would be eligible to accrue Boulder Leave Plan hours on a sliding scale based on weekly hours and planned length of employment, accrue benefit hours every pay period and receive their full allotment by the halfway point of their employment, and receive benefit payouts of 60 to 90%, in keeping with FAMLI leave payments.
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