Auditor warns county commission to watch spending

Moffat County independent auditor Paul Backes of McMahan and Associates, L.L.C, cautioned commissioners Thursday of spending beyond their means.

"I don't think Moffat County is to this point yet, but I'm sure you've seen the consequences of governments who continually spend," said the Avon, Colo., accountant.

Backes was on hand to explain the audit for the county's 2002 budget.

"One way or the other, you have to deal with the decline in revenue," he said. "I don't want to be the bearer of bad news but there's nothing good in this."

Moffat County ended the 2002 year with a decrease of $2,151,113 from 2001. In five years, the county's total resources have decreased by almost $5 million.

In 1998, the county recorded total resources of $9,228,946. This year's total budget is set at $4,169,884.

In 2002, the largest hit was in the Road and Bridge fund, which decreased by almost $1.5 million. Those costs were attributed mainly to county road expenditures. User fees from the Public Safety Center came in $637,490 under budget in 2002.

But "that shouldn't be surprising," Backes said to commissioners. In 2001, those same jail user fees were overestimated by $69,472.

Declining sales tax and property taxes are also targeted for the declines in revenue. The county's general fund sales tax collections decreased approximately 5 percent from 2001. In 2001, the county collected $832,709 but collected only $798,931 last year.

Rising health care costs added to the county's 2002 revenue decline.

The Health Insurance Fund increased expenditures by 27 percent. In that fund $279,916 more was spent in 2002 of a total balance of $1,684,834.

In order to keep close tabs on expenditures, Backes recommended the county install a centralized billing system. Currently, each department is responsible for processing accounts.

However, that move would require spending more county funds on labor and new computer software.

Backes' overall foreboding concern was Moffat County's reliance on property taxes. A $530,626 decrease in assessed value is projected for 2003.

Moffat County's top 10 taxpayers provide a majority of the county's total assessed value.

"The problem that I grapple with here is really large property taxpayers," he said, forecasting major county revenue problems if some companies pulled out.

"I think you can hold the line OK but I'm nervous about the property tax issue," he added.

In the future, Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos said she didn't see any other way to make up the revenue differences than to propose a mill levy increase.

"It's the only way we can keep cutting the budget without cutting services," she said. "At some point we'll have to raise the mill levy."

In order to meet the 2003 budget projections in the general fund, commissioners have asked departments to slash a total of more than $660,000 in the next four months to meet the $1.9 million beginning fund balance.

Drafting a budget for the 2004 year is expected to include even more cutbacks. Department heads have been asked to frame next year's projections around numbers from the 2001 budget.

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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