Contentious at Times, Montrose County Budget Is Presented
by Gus Jarvis
Dec 06, 2012 | 1207 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print

MONTROSE – Despite concerns among several citizens, the Montrose Board of County Commissioners believe the proposed 2013 budget, as presented to the public at Friendship Hall on Tuesday evening, has the best interest of the public in mind.

“We have tried very hard to be responsible to our citizens,” Commissioner Gary Ellis said at the presentation. “I think we have done a good job. We always have the best interest of our constituents in mind as we go through these difficult and challenging times.”

Tuesday’s event was the final public presentation before a special Dec. 14 hearing, in which the  final 2013 budget will go before the commissioners for adoption.

Based on the county’s net mil levy of 20.127 mils, property tax revenue is projected to be $11.4 million next year, approximately $1.87 million higher than 2012 figures. (The net mil levy is the 23.528 gross mil levy, minus the 3.45 credit levy, plus the .049 abatement levy.) A projected $11.4 million in property tax revenues is $2.6 million below the state statutory 5.5 percent limit of $14 million.

As far as property taxes are concerned, it is projected that an average residential property owner will still receive a TABOR refund from Montrose County on their tax bill in 2013 but, because of declining values, the refund amount will not be the same as 2012.

As an example, County Budget Manager Lanny Paulson said a residential property with a market value of $218,000 would have been taxed $292.90 in 2012. In 2013, because the TABOR refund amount will be smaller for property owners, that same residence would be taxed $349.26, for an increase of $56.36. County staff and commissioners reiterated the notion several times during the meeting that this is simply because the refund amounts are shrinking.

“People are still getting refunds,” Commissioner David White said. “Just not the same refund from the previous year.”

Several citizens expressed concern that no matter how you figure it, the change still constitutes an increased amount on property tax bills.

“I look at it as a 20 percent increase,” resident Roger Brown said. “You probably could have cut more to reduce expenditures.”

Smith asked Brown what specific expenditures or services he would like to have cut from the 2013 budget. Brown couldn’t name any, other than the fact that expenditures should be cut. Two of the commissioners took exception to this comment.

“You are doing everyone up here a disservice by coming here and saying ‘just change it’,” Commissioner Ron Henderson said. He added that numerous budget meetings, at both the commissioner and department-levels, have been held, and that while it’s not too late to provide input, it would have been beneficial for Brown to have attended some of the earlier meetings.

“This has taken months to get to this point,” White said. “There is always a concern on a lack of transparency that we are accused of. We [are] as transparent as the clear glass house we live in.”

Resident Marsha Bailey also likened the diminished refund amounts to an increase on her property tax bill.

“I beg you to please not increase the taxes to this county,” Bailey said. “We have business people downtown who are barely hanging on…Please don’t raise those taxes. There has to be another way. The reserve fund is high. We have the highest mil levy in the five county area. Some of them are at 10…There are ways it can be done. I beg you to please reconsider.”

White responded by saying the county is obligated to follow state formulas under TABOR laws, and that comparing mil levies of nearby counties doesn’t add up; they are all managed differently, he pointed out, and have different sources of revenue.

“You need to go to the state legislature and have them change the Gallagher Amendment,” White said.

On a positive note, sales and use tax collections are projected to finish 2012 trending upward, with an increase of 6.8 percent from 2011, and are expected to continue to climb in modestly in 2013 at a rate of 4 percent. Over the past four years, sales and use tax revenues have improved from a 7.5 percent decline in 2009, to a 4.6 percent decline in 2010, to a 1.9 percent increase in 2011.

“I think what’s going on here in Montrose County is that we are getting along and doing better than we think we are,” Henderson said. “We are trying to keep Montrose County in a viable state instead of falling back. We are still not on top of it yet, but we are heading in a positive direction. Our tax dollars have been responsible and well directed.”

After reducing staffing levels by just over 31 positions from 2011-2012, the county will continue to reduce staffing in 2013 by eliminating 3.4 Full Time Employees.

The budget includes a partial implementation of a performance-based compensation plan. Stage 1 of this plan will bring each position within its established pay-range to a minimum level of 83 percent of midpoint. The overall increase in salaries and wages from 2012 to 2013 is 2.7 percent.

The county’s general fund revenue is expected to increase by 9.4 percent in 2013, primarily due to property tax revenues and the reallocation of specific ownership and mineral lease revenue.

Total expenditures from the general fund in 2013 will be approximately $1.3 million, or 7.1 percent, lower than the 2012 revised budget. The proposed budget for 2013 reflects a $428,000 increase in the ending fund balance.

“I want to commend you on the job you have done,” resident Cheryl Young told the commissioners and county staff present at the hearing. “You have done a really good job. We have got a handful of people that seem very unhappy. Maybe they should list their properties, sell them and move.”

The proposed Montrose County budget can be viewed on the county’s webstie at montrosecounty.net





gjarvis@watchnewspapers.com

Twitter: @gusgusj

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