County officials should have seen budget shortfall coming

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By STAN HATHHORN

Craig resident

I attended the full-house Moffat County commissioners meeting Aug. 18. The subject was the condition of Moffat County's finances. The commissioners stated that they became alarmed after receipt of the 2002 audit.

This audit could have been in hand by late March. In fact, state law requires the audit be performed "as soon as may be."

That aside, the staggering budget problems of 2003 have little to do with the audit. The treasurer's fund balance report shows at all times the amount of cash in the till. The 2003 beginning balances were about $8.2 million short of the budget adopted by the BOCC on Dec. 10, 2002. I guess nobody noticed.

At the meeting, the BOCC addressed the general fund, road and bridge fund and the jail fund.

General fund

On Dec. 12, 2002, resolution 2000-38 was signed. It resolved to maintain a minimum $2 million in reserves in the general fund. This superceded the previous minimum of 35 percent of the fiscal year budget.

On Dec. 10, 2002, resolution 2002-39 was approved, stating "Commissioners shall have as their county reserve, $1.9 million in the general fund, effective for the 2003 budget."

The general fund began fiscal year 2003 with $1,062,799.

I find it incredible that it took nearly nine months to recognize this shortfall.

Road and bridge fund

The road and bridge fund began this year with a cash balance of $757,101. The commissioners were queried at the meeting about the mandated minimum to be maintained in that fund. The only respondent to the question replied that she was unaware of any such mandate.

But the reality is, BOCC resolution 2001-60 (passed Dec. 10, 2001) provides for a minimum balance of $1.5 million and a subsequent resolution, 2002-24 (passed Aug. 12, 2002) reiterated the same minimum balance.

Finally, resolution 2002-24 (Dec. 10, 2002) stated: "Whereas, the Board of County Commissioners has established that the road and bridge fund shall not go below the amount of $1.5 million, effective Jan. 1, 2003."

Three resolutions in 12 months and nobody remembers?

In June 2003, three fund transfers were approved just to make payroll for the hard-working road and bridge employees. That situation won't likely improve this year.

Jail fund

The jail fund began 2003 with a deficit balance, which puts both the treasurer and the BOCC in violation of budget laws. I sympathize with the sheriff. He has the impossible task of maintaining the jail and making the debt service payments of about $950,000 a year. It's not all his fault.

When the tax referendum was voted on in 1997, it provided that three-quarters of one cent of tax collected by the county be dedicated to fund the debt service on the public safety center. BOCC resolution 2001-33 (June 29, 2001) provided just that.

However, another resolution -- 2001-62 (Dec. 28, 2001) -- rescinded part of that revenue, diverting that portion of the tax collected in the unincorporated area of the county to the

general fund.

That resolution defies the spirit and intent of the referendum voted and approved by electors.

Conclusion

On Jan. 13, the commissioners approved resolution 2003-8, a financial management policy that stated "Whereas, the Moffat County Commissioners take their responsibility as trustee of public funds very seriously ..."

Yeah right.

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