MONTROSE COUNTY – County Manager Jesse Smith told a group of about 80 citizens at Friendship Hall on Monday night (Nov. 14) that his proposed 2012 county budget has been slashed by 17.7 percent from last year.
The cuts are necessary, Smith said, because of a projected $3.8 million drop in property tax revenues, and because citizens have demanded cuts in government spending.
Smith said he asked each county department to submit a budget between 4 and 7 percent leaner than last year’s. Some succeeded in cutting expenditures, others did not, or could not.
“Total fund expenditures for 2012 will come to an estimated $46 million,” Smith said. “That represents a $9.9 million reduction over last year.”
The budget total in Smith’s PowerPoint presentation showed a figure of $58.15 million. But that number, Smith told The Watch after the meeting, “reflects $10 million in duplicate expenses.” So the true budget bottom line will be something on the order of $46 million. (Smith also said that this budget will be the first one based on the county’s new Strategic Plan and the first to use a “cost center” budgeting method. So, in some regards, comparing it to previous budgets is “like comparing apples to oranges.”)
A selective look at the various departmental budgets is revealing, however. The airport budget, for example, shows a drop in expenditures of nearly 47 percent, from $11 million down to about $6 million. The reason, Smith explained, was due to a big drop in FAA grant money following the completion of airport improvements.
The County Coroner’s Office expects a slight increase in costs next year (0.2 percent) due, Smith said, “to a state mandate requiring that some autopsies be sent out of the area; these are transportation costs.”
County Administration, including the Board of County Commissioners, will take a hit of about 12.5 percent in 2012, dropping from a budget of $785,000 to a proposed $686,000.
The County Attorney will see a jump in expenditures of about 13.8 percent, from $397,000 to about $452,000. These are additional legal expenses for what Commissioner Ron Henderson later called “the hospital conundrum.”
Facilities is a big department, encompassing all maintenance, the fairgrounds, and weed management, among other services. Its budget will be reduced by about 4 percent from 2011, to $4.45 million.
Health and Human Services – funding everything from Child Support Enforcement to Women’s and Children’s Heath – found cuts worth about $1 million, from $8.5 million to $7.5 million.
The Sheriff’s Office will take a cut of about $500,000, down from $9.3 million to roughly $8.8 million.
The biggest single department, Public Works, including Road and Bridge, will actually see a 7.3 percent increase it its budget, Smith said, from $13.3 last year to $14.3 in 2012. Smith reminded the audience that “Public Works has its own dedicated revenue source tied to it, the 1 percent sales tax passed by voters in 2007.”
On the last page of the presentation, Smith showed total estimated revenues for 2012 at $56.3 million and total “uses” at $58.15 million. That shortfall of nearly $1.9 million will be made up, Smith said, from the county fund’s balance, which currently stands at just over $31 million.
At this point, Smith turned to questions from the audience. Dee Laird noted the discrepancy between revenues and uses. “You’re spending $1.9 million more than you’re taking in. Doesn’t that need to change?”
County Budget Manager Lannie Paulson replied: “It’s why you have fund balances. It’s a cushion to weather economic downturns like this one, to keep providing services without having to fire employees one year and hire a bunch more the next.”
Publisher Ron Bain asked, “Where in the budget are the attorney’s fees that are going to Denver?”
Smith: “You’re referring, I assume to the JetAway litigation? They’re there in the Airport Fund budget.”
Health and Human Services employee Connie Miller asked why her department was required to take five unpaid furlough days next year, when other departments were not. Smith responded that HHS “chose to use furlough days as a way to help cut its budget. Other departments found other ways.”
Citizen Marsha Bailey veered slightly off the budget proper to lambaste the commissioners on the mill levy. “The mill levy needs to be reevaluated. You increased it by 3.9 mills and took millions out of our pockets. Then you promised to refund us $380,000. That’s like overcharging somebody $20 and giving him a dollar back.
“Cut the mill levy to 14.39 as you promised [the 2012 levy will be at 16.802 mills, Paulson said], balance the budget, and not with the reserve fund!”
Commissioners did not respond directly, but did give brief individual statements at the end of the session.
Commissioner David White said, “I’m very pleased with what I’ve seen. We’re not taking a meat clever [to the budget], this is a judicious approach to cutting. We’re listening.”
Commissioner Ron Henderson opined, “Most of the jobs lost in recent years have been in the construction industry. And hopefully with Piñon Ridge [the proposed West End uranium mill] rolling right along, those jobs will come back.”
Commission Chairman Gary Ellis said, “We struggle with these [budget] decisions. We’re not flippant about it. The quality of service in this county is second to none. We want to continue to deliver that level of service. We’re just trying to represent you.”