Ouray County Braces for More Belt-Tightening in 2014
by Samantha Wright
Oct 10, 2013 | 1583 views | 0 0 comments | 42 42 recommendations | email to a friend | print

OURAY COUNTY – The illustration on the title page said it all. Five cartoon people gripped the edges of a single jumbo-sized dollar bill, pulling it in five different directions. That pretty much summed up what Ouray County Administrator Connie Hunt attempted to do in her preparation of the Preliminary Ouray County 2014 Budget – stretch dwindling county dollars to make them go as far as possible, without cutting back on services. 

Even so, Hunt told the Ouray Board of County Commissioners when she presented the preliminary budget on Oct. 8, she wasn’t able to stretch the dollars far enough. With $9.8 million in proposed expenditures, and only $9.5 million in proposed revenues, the preliminary budget projects a $302,000 deficit for the coming year.

This is due to the cumulative effects of declining property tax revenues (which decreased by $391,032 in 2013, on top of a 13.39 percent reduction in 2012), coupled with the addition of two looming capital projects that will impact county coffers: the $600,000 fairgrounds grandstands project, and the $795,000 County Road 361 repair and improvement project. 

These projects are largely grant-funded. However, the county is still on the hook to provide matching funds, and because of this, the dollar value of the 2014 preliminary budget is actually 12.4 percent higher than its 2013 counterpart.

Stripped of the two capital projects, the 2014 budget reflects a 15.3 percent decrease (about $1.5 million) in county spending, compared to 2013. 

The county has a sales tax question in the upcoming election that would yield approximately $350,000 annually, but Hunt said that she constructed the 2014 draft budget “using a conservative approach” that does not account for these potential new funds, should the ballot measure pass. The budget includes no new hires, and no compensation increase for county employees (for the fifth year in a row). It does, however, maintain a one percent merit bonus for county employees, based upon performance evaluations, and provides for the addition of new vehicles for the Sheriff’s Office and EMS department.

In light of the projected $302,000 deficit, Hunt proposed a cost allocation plan to offset the budget. Such a plan would shift a portion of the county’s costs for “internal services” that are typically borne by the General Fund into the external funds of specific departments, including Road and Bridge, Emergency Medical Services and Public Health. 

If the commissioners opt to implement such a plan, Hunt said, “Every fund would feel the impact,” likely resulting in reduced work weeks and furlough days in each county department.

More bad news: the preliminary budget does not reflect the fact that health insurance premiums for county employees have increased by nine percent, or $65 per month, per employee. The commissioners are holding a work session in the near future to discuss other options that the county may have under the new healthcare reform act. 

Nor does the budget reflect current uncertainty over whether the county will receive its annual PILT “Payments in Lieu of Taxes” allocation in 2014. These payments from the federal government to local governments are designed to help offset losses in property taxes due to non-taxable federal lands within their boundaries. If the PILT funds do not come through, that would mean an additional $300,000 hit to the county’s budget next year. 

Commissioner Don Batchelder summed up the situation. “It’s an absolutely bare bones budget,” that does nothing but maintain services at their current level, he said. “And yet we are still at a $302,000 deficit.” 

And even if the county sales tax measure were to pass, he observed, “it would hold the county at a similar level to where we were last year. That is, assuming that PILT funding is the same as last year, which may be an optimistic assumption.”

The BOCC will hold a public hearing on the adoption of the proposed 2014 budget on Tuesday, Dec. 10 at 9:30 a.m. at the Ouray County Courthouse in the Commissioners’ meeting room. The budget will be available for public inspection beginning Oct. 17 at the County Administrator’s Office at the Ouray County Courthouse, and the Land Use / Road and Bridge facility, located at 111 Mall Road in Ridgway.

County residents may submit comments or file objections to the proposed 2014 budget at any time prior to its final adoption. These may be sent to: Ouray County Administrator, Attn: Budget Comments, P. O. Box C, Ouray, Colorado

81427.

swright@watchnewspapers.com or Tweet @iamsamwright

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