Here's to a better budget season

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Moffat County commissioners received some welcome news this week. Oil and gas property tax valuations are up $37 million over last year and will generate about $775,000 in additional revenue for schools, the county, Craig, Dinosaur and special taxing districts.

The county will get about 32 percent of that, but commissioners are waiting to see what the state-assessed evaluations will bring before they get overly optimistic about next year's budget numbers.

The budget planning process gets underway in July as department directors make their funding requests.

What's interesting is that Darryl Steele is the only commissioner who is certain to be back after the general election. Marianna Raftopoulos will vacate her seat because of term limits and Les Hampton is running for re-election.

It's one of the issues the recall committee raised when it was circulating petitions.

Recall supporters felt that putting another budget in the hands of their targets only would exacerbate the county's fiscal woes.

But Raftopoulos says the commission has learned some important lessons and will continue to be frugal, even if oil and gas revenues pump more money into the budget. Even though she's a lame duck, she insists she won't suffer from "short-timer's" syndrome as she develops spending priorities for 2005.

Raftopoulos said the commissioners have several goals.

They want to give county employees raises because they couldn't do that in 2004 because of budget restraints.

They're awaiting final recommendations of a recent budget analysis and want to implement tighter fiscal controls with an integrated computer system that will closely align budgeting with purchasing.

They also want to restore funding for some county programs, such as the Shadow Mountain Clubhouse and the Sherman Youth Camp.

And finally, "we want to build our fund balances," Raftopoulos said.

The commission has to come up with money for needed infrastructure improvements and equipment purchases.

Time will tell if the commissioners are able to do all they want with the extra revenue --if, indeed, it materializes.

But Raftopoulos sounds as if the commission is approaching the coming year with an eye on saving money, not just spending it.

We hope the 2005 budget offers taxpayers more hope than the bruising budget battle of 2004.

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