Routt, Kit Carson officials talk fiscal challenges

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SNOWMASS -- County employees shed some light on how counties can work through budget crunches at Colorado Counties Inc.'s meeting Wednesday.

It's an experience Moffat County knows all too well.

Officials from Kit Carson and Routt counties shared stories of their budget woes.

Bordering Kansas, 8,049 residents live within Kit Carson County's 2,162 acres. Budget crunches can be hard for such small counties because there often are few expenses to cut, said Lyn Brownfield, Kit Carson County administrator.

She suggested that the counties first look at cutting nonmandated programs. Her county tried cutting their bookmobile when they hit financial straits. The cut would have saved the county $16,000, but public outcry was so great the county commissioners didn't cut it.

"It can be very interesting in a small community when you try to cut a public service," Brownfield said.

The Moffat County commissioners had similar experiences during the 2004 budget cycle when they tried to close Shadow Mountain Clubhouse. The public outcry motivated Commissioner Darryl Steele to begin a fund-raising venture to keep the facility open.

Brownfield also advised commissioners to look at cutting employee benefits and centralize operating expenses during budget crunches. Neither move could be popular, she warned.

And when all else fails, a county can shift finances from funds with more revenue to those with less, she said.

Tom Sullivan, Routt County manager, described how his county's administration worked through a budget shortfall in 2003.

Routt County needed $17 million for improvements at the Yampa Valley Regional Airport and $15 million for a new courthouse. All the heavy machinery needed to be replaced at once, and the commissioners also wanted to give all employees a 6 percent raise to stay competitive with the job market, Sullivan said.

With a $41.1 million budget, they knew they were going to hit a budget shortfall, he said.

The 6 percent employee raise was reduced by 70 percent, Sullivan said. The county intended to make up the difference during succeeding budget cycles. The airport and courthouse plans were put off for a year, and the county began trying to extend the life of some equipment.

But Sullivan said he thought the county made it through the crunch because they were open and honest with employees about the condition of the county.

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

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