North Metro survives pandemic in strong shape

Federal assistance, better-than-expected revenues boost financial reports

Liam Adams
ladams@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 6/28/21

Despite the pandemic, Westminster, Thornton, Northglenn and Brighton all increased their net financial position by the end of 2020. Year-end financial reports show that all four cities performed …

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North Metro survives pandemic in strong shape

Federal assistance, better-than-expected revenues boost financial reports

Posted

Despite the pandemic, Westminster, Thornton, Northglenn and Brighton all increased their net financial position by the end of 2020.

Year-end financial reports show that all four cities performed better financially last year than in 2019, though only after some financial maneuvering and government assistance. The pandemic still caused cities to alter plans originally laid out in the 2020 budget, but nevertheless positioned them well as the pandemic winds down.

“We’re doing better than was expected overall. This is a result of moderate, revenue recovery efforts,” said Westminster City Manager Don Tripp at an April 26 city council meeting. Tripp’s analysis is similar to Westminster’s neighbors.

Westminster, Brighton, Northglenn and Thornton all adapted to the pandemic when it started last spring. Westminster, Thornton and Brighton enacted hiring freezes, while Westminster and Thornton deferred maintenance projects. Many cities reduced parks and recreation programming. Westminster used 2019 carryover revenue to backfill 2020 revenue losses.

Meanwhile, all cities received substantial help from the federal government in COVID-19 relief funding. Revenue in the “operating grants and contributions” category went up in Westminster by $11.5 million from 2019, $9.4 million in Thornton, $3 million in Northglenn and $4.3 million in Brighton.

The federal relief money wasn’t just extra spending money, though. The pandemic introduced new expenses for cities, such as personal protective equipment (PPE) and implementing safeguards to keep city facilities hygienic. Thornton, Northglenn and Brighton all spent more money than they had budgeted for pre-pandemic, according to a comparison of year-end financial reports and 2020 adopted budgets.

Cost-cutting measures and federal stimulus money made a difference for the cities, but so did regular revenue streams that performed better than expected. Earlier in the pandemic, sales and use tax revenue, the largest revenue streams for cities, was down. City finance staff were nervous that would continue given the overall slowing of the economy, although that trend ultimately reversed.

“We were very pleased in the end how well we did with sales and use tax revenue,” said Westminster Finance Director Tammy Hitchens at a Westminster City Council study session June 7. Sales and use tax revenue in Thornton and Brighton increased from 2019. It was down in Westminster and Northglenn, but not by a substantial amount.

Despite the financial hardships that all four cities faced, net positions, or end-of-year balance, increased in 2020 from 2019. Thornton’s increased by $72.3 million, Westminster by $57.9 million, Brighton by $45.8 million, and Northglenn by $13.7 million.

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