Social services funds dwindling

County may have to offset shortfall

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Moffat County has one of the lower social services mill levies in the state. The county may have to pay for those savings a few years from now as reserve funds dwindle, says Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos.

This year, the county has a social services mill levy of .648, a much lower mill levy than that of counties with comparable valuations.

In 2000, the county had a social services mill levy of .769, which generated $250,000. As mill levy revenue declined, so did state funding for Colorado Works and other social services programs.

Declining social services revenue hasn't yet been a problem for most social service programs, because the reserve fund is still healthy. But as the county is forced to reach into those reserves to meet growing social service demands in the next few years, Raftopoulos and Marie Peer, Social Services director, say they foresee problems to come.

"An ailing economy creates an increasing demand for services, yet funds to administer assistance programs and Medicaid eligibility determination fall dismally short of the need. The gap between funds appropriated and funds needed has grown at an alarming rate," Peer wrote in a letter to the County Social Services Directors Association.

In 2000, the state's social services allocation was $1.7 million less than counties needed to meet demands. By 2002, the shortfall had grown to $12.1 million. Moffat County has already felt the pinch in 2004, when commissioners were forced to lower the poverty eligibility level for child care assistance from 150 percent to 130 percent, thereby eliminating four families from the program. At the end of March, four more families will lose assistance when the educational child care assistance program is cut.

But even if Moffat County were to raise the mill levy, it's unclear how much the move would help Social Services. Peer said it would be "crazy" for the county to try to absorb the shortfalls in state funding into the county budget, if not impossible.

Colorado counties depend on state money to use as matching funds for federal grants. Without the state money, it's almost impossible for counties to obtain these grants, Peer said.

Nor is there really a light at the end of the tunnel.

For fiscal year 2005, the state Joint Budget Committee has voted to cut an additional $3.5 million in county funding.

At the last couple commissioner meetings attended by Social Services employees, Raftopoulos has congratulated the department on the quality of service they provide at a low cost to the taxpayer.

Moffat County has a valuation of about $322 million.

Teller County has a comparable valuation of $320 million, but the county's mill levy is almost twice as high Moffat County's, at 1.01, which generates $425,674 in local funds.

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

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