One on One with Jane Brautigam

Each month, BizWest asks a business leader to participate in a question and answer feature to help shed light on a business topic, an industry or add insight to a field of endeavor. As the novel coronavirus has taken the nation and world by the throat, local governments have been among its victims. This month, we’ve asked Jane Brautigam, Boulder city manager, to talk about the issues.

BizWest: Boulder was one of the first communities in the region to reduce spending through furloughs and layoffs as the COVID crisis began to be felt. What were you seeing in the local economy that caused you to take this step?

Jane Brautigam: The city of Boulder relies heavily upon sales and use taxes to fund many of its core functions. As the pandemic began to unfold, we saw a variety of indicators that caused us concern about this revenue stream. Many businesses were closing; CU closed its campus and many students returned home; many commuters who spend money in our city during the workday were starting to work from home; and large events were being cancelled, resulting in significantly fewer visitors.

We have a responsibility to balance our budget. As a result, we took several very difficult steps, including furloughs of more than 700 employees. To date, the city has not had layoffs, although city leadership and the executive budget team continue to consider many workforce-related cost-saving measures including: a hiring freeze, not backfilling vacant roles as attrition continues to occur, additional furloughs and layoffs.

BW: What is the city currently doing to blunt the impact of the virus on health and on the economy?

Brautigam: In responding to COVID-19, the city has worked to recognize the importance of both health and economic impacts. In addition to coordinating with public health officials and implementing many measures through a life and safety lens, the city has prioritized efforts to restore our local economy and support the many businesses and workers impacted by the pandemic.

Specifically, we have offered assistance ranging from grant support for small businesses to resources and consultation on safe operations and access to financial support. We established a dedicated webpage of business resources, offered industry-specific webinars, coordinated with others on restaurant space allowances to comply with physical distancing, instituted a rental payment plan for our own commercial tenants, and modified parking pricing to assist workplace return and pick-up/delivery ease. City staff has collaborated closely with the Boulder Business Response and Recovery Alliance, and we are incredibly thankful for these partners.

BW: How well is Boulder positioned to weather this storm and recover in as short of a time period as reasonable?

Brautigam: This pandemic and its aftermath, which is expected to last well into 2021 and perhaps beyond, presents a challenge for all local governments. However, Boulder is benefitting from previous policy decisions and a decade-long commitment to achieving many of the recommendations made by two blue ribbon commissions.

These include efforts to build up emergency reserves, now at 19.5 percent, creating a cushion that will help us bridge the one-time precipitous drop in revenue due to business closures. We have also worked to diversify our revenue sources without increasing property tax rates and looking strategically at expiring taxes that fund ongoing needs as well as specific community priorities.

Lastly, we are leaning heavily on one of our greatest assets — our dedicated, professional, creative and engaged community and staff. We are so fortunate to have solutions-oriented partners who are helping us support the public. I am particularly proud and appreciative of my many city colleagues who have risen to this challenge and implemented enhanced customer services, embracing innovation and continuous improvement under unimaginable circumstances.

BW: What message do you wish was better understood by people in Boulder and the region?

Brautigam: This pandemic has created some of the most challenging conditions I have experienced in my career as a public servant. It was critically important that we prioritize life and safety and move quickly to align ourselves with the guidance of public health officials. I am confident our city council saved lives as a result of its quick action. At the same time, we understand the importance of striking the right balance to support our local economy. We are thinking creatively, in partnership with our many partners in our business community, about how to support small businesses, restaurants and the many employers in Boulder. We appreciate the community’s patience and look forward to showing our love and support for the many businesses that help make Boulder such a vibrant, special place.

BW: Prior to the COVID outbreak, some members of the business community raised concerns about the length and cost of the development review/permitting process in Boulder. What do you think the city can do to alleviate these concerns?

Brautigam: The city of Boulder recently re-structured to create a Planning and Development Services Department with a commitment to operational excellence. With this commitment, staff has been focusing on clarifying and streamlining decision-making, work prioritization and project implementation. The goal is to create consistent and predictable processes and systems that provide a high level of service to all community members, including business owners.

Because the pandemic occurred shortly after this organizational change, most of this work to date has occurred in the context of COVID-19. Staff has implemented pilot programs including permit streamlining and removals of barriers that could be extended if they prove to be viable and valuable to our community.

Even more specifically, I am pleased to share that during the past few weeks our permit review team has dedicated itself to issuing permits as quickly as possible. The team successfully met a significant milestone of improving our review time by two weeks. This was an outstanding effort — one that I hope will create increased community confidence in our services and processes.

 

Each month, BizWest asks a business leader to participate in a question and answer feature to help shed light on a business topic, an industry or add insight to a field of endeavor. As the novel coronavirus has taken the nation and world by the throat, local governments have been among its victims. This month, we’ve asked Jane Brautigam, Boulder city manager, to talk about the issues.

BizWest: Boulder was one of the first communities in the region to reduce spending through furloughs and layoffs as the COVID crisis began to be felt. What were you seeing in the local economy that caused you to take this step?

Jane Brautigam: The city of Boulder relies heavily upon sales and use taxes to fund many of its core functions. As the pandemic began to unfold, we saw a variety of indicators that caused us concern about this revenue stream. Many businesses were closing; CU closed its campus and many students returned home; many commuters who spend money in our city during the workday were starting to work from home; and large events were being cancelled, resulting in significantly fewer visitors.

We have a responsibility to balance our budget. As a result, we took several very difficult steps, including furloughs of more than 700 employees. To date, the city has not had layoffs, although city leadership and the executive budget team continue to consider many workforce-related…