Budget outlook improves

County finishes 2003 better than anticipated

Preliminary figures indicate Moffat County finished 2003 with an ending fund balance for the general fund of about $460,000 more than was anticipated.

County commissioners said they expected the 2003 ending fund balance to be more than the $1,020,923 that was projected, but were surprised when they received the preliminary numbers.

"This is better than we anticipated," Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos said. "It shows the controls we implemented worked and this is a tribute to all county employees."

The controls Raftopoulos referred to included 20 percent operating cuts in all departments and a stringent purchase order system the commissioners instituted at the end of October. The system, which is still operating today, requires commissioner approval for all departmental purchases.

In the original 2003 budget, the commissioners projected $8,275,178 in expenditures. An unexpected Public Safety Center payment increased those expenditures by $300,000, but the spending controls reduced actual expenditures to $8,112,657.

Raftopoulos stressed that the budget calculations had not been audited yet. The commissioners have hired a budget analyst to check the 2003 numbers and perform a five-year budget study this March. The auditor's services will be paid for by a grant from the State Department of Local Affairs.

Moffat County Financial Analyst Tinneal Gerber said she doesn't expect the auditor to find a drastic difference between the preliminary and actual balance figures.

But no plans will be made for the savings until after the budget analyst has checked the numbers, Raftopoulos said.

"We're going to sit on it until the auditor comes in. We'll analyze it better before we make any changes," she said.

But even the preliminary figures should dispel rumors that the county is bankrupt, Raftopoulos said.

"We have cash in the bank in the millions," she said.

The savings should carry over into 2004, when the ending fund balance will hopefully be as high as $2 million, Commissioner Darryl Steele said. He said the county would continue to operate and spend conservatively.

To improve the year-to-year cash flow, Commissioner Les Hampton said he'd like to identify the county's highest expenditures and break those costs down into quarterly payments.

For example, every January the county owes an insurance payment of about $340,000. That eats up a large portion of the county's ending fund balance and can produce financial cramps until taxes come in after April 15.

Likewise, many of the contributions the county makes to organizations such as the Visiting Nurse Association and Yampa Valley Partners are made in one lump sum in January. Hampton said he saw no reason why those contributions couldn't be made on a quarterly basis.

The general fund, jail fund and road and bridge fund are the county's largest funds, as well as the funds over which commissioners have the most control, Raftopoulos said. But to build up the general fund, the commissioners will have to find a way to make payments on the Public Safety Center without taking money from the general fund, as they were forced to do in 2003.

Raftopoulos said she hopes the jail will eventually produce enough revenue to pay for itself. A contract to house prisoners from Carbon County, Wyo., could bring in between $75,000 and $100,000.

In 2004, $250,000 has been budgeted for jail payments.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or by e-mail at rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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