The proposed budget represents further belt tightening in a struggling economy, Hunt told The Watch in a telephone interview. The county expects to see a 13.35 percent decrease in property tax revenue for 2012, a decline of $369,000 over 2011. This will impact all funds, most particularly the General Fund.
Hunt is proposing a 2012 expenditure of $8.302 million total versus the 2011 figure of $8.379 million, a drop of just less than 1 percent.
“I think we’re in pretty good shape,” she said, “compared to other counties and municipalities in Colorado.” The county has “a couple of million dollars” in reserve and has budgeted conservatively for the last several years, with results in the black. “This year,” for example, Hunt said, “our General Fund came out about $170,000 revenue over expenditures. Last year year-end we came out $200,000 revenue over expenditures.” Overall, the General Fund has a balance of just under $800,000.
Still, trimming spending to match reduced revenues, “through efficiencies, furloughs, and other savings,” Hunt said, will not come without some pain.
The county won’t have to lay off any employees next year, but there will be no new positions filled, either. “We have combined some positions,” Hunt said. “The building official retired this year, and we’re using some part-time employees.” The county still has not filled the full-time county attorney job vacated when Mary Deganhart was appointed to the district court. “I’m moving forward with that [budgeted salary] plugged in,” Hunt said.
There will be no cost-of-living adjustments next year for county workers.
In fact, employees will face an increase of 4 percent in their health insurance premiums.
Perhaps the biggest single cut will come at the expense of employees’ paychecks and reduced citizen access to county services. Hunt is proposing the imposition of five mandatory, coordinated furlough days, “vacation days without pay,” that will also result in county offices being closed on those days. The BOCC met with department heads yesterday (Oct. 19) to discuss the furlough days and their dates.
Some highlights (or lowlights) in the budget cuts:
• General Fund spending will be down $98,000, or about 2.7 percent.
• The Road and Bridge Fund will decrease by $61,000, or 3 percent.
• The Emergency Medical Services Fund takes a big hit with a 6.1 percent cut of $35,000.
• However, the Social Services Fund (the third biggest fund after General Fund and Road and Bridge) will see an increase of over $160,000, a jump of 13 percent. That, said Hunt, is because of the increased need, thanks to the slow economy, for things like food stamps and help with utility bills. Most of the money, about 80 percent of the fund’s $1.3 million budget, comes from outside the county, from state and federal sources, she said.
As stated earlier, property tax revenues will be down by $379,000, but, according to Hunt’s numbers, the total revenue decline will only reach about $200,000. This is substantially due to a projected increase (from oil and gas) in state severance taxes to the county, a jump of $20,000. And to a $38,000 bump in Payment In Lieu of Taxes, or PILT, monies. These are payments made by the federal government for lands that do not pay property tax, such as Forest Service and BLM land.
Even with the trimming, Hunt sees a 2012 budget shortfall of about $70,000. And she’s going to ask the BOCC to pay for it out of the General Fund balance. “A 2007 resolution does allow the BOCC to utilize a portion of the fund balance,” Hunt explained. “We have not had to do this for years. But we’ve cut as much as we could, and we’re still a little bit short. Perhaps the board would be willing to authorize the usage of some fund balance and consider the implementation of five furlough days for 2012.”
A public hearing on the budget will be held Dec. 13 at the Ouray County Courthouse, at 10 a.m.
Meanwhile, copies of the draft budget are available at the county administrator’s office at the courthouse, or at the Land Use/Road and Bridge office in Ridgway.
Comments or objections can be sent to: Ouray County Administrator, Attn: Budget Comments, P.O. Box C, Ouray, CO 81427.