Moffat County budget process starts in earnest

When voters said "no" Tuesday to Moffat County's request to keep excess revenues, the 2006 budget process kicked into high gear. County commissioners have been discussing the budget and meeting with county departments about next year's finances since July. But until voters decided the fate of Referendum 1A, they didn't know what their bottom line would be.

Commissioners instructed department leaders to make two budgets for 2006, one assuming the referendum had passed and one assuming it failed; neither was set in stone.

If voters had passed the referendum, the county would have had just more than $10 million to spend next year. But when voters rejected the referendum, opting to keep tax credits from a 1913 law, it meant the county has $9.83 million to spend. In 2005, the county budgeted $9.5 million. The referendum's failure means the county has $202,425 less to spend than if it had passed.

The upside, Commissioner Tom Gray said, is that commissioners have a definitive number with which to work.

"Now we can roll up our sleeves and really look at it," Gray said.

Commissioners will meet with department leaders Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss the 2006 budget, and a public hearing is set for Nov. 15.

The county has $330,378 more to spend in 2006 than in 2005, mostly because of increases in energy development. But even with 3.47 percent more to spend, the county is looking at cuts in services.

Rising energy prices mean the county has to cut back some services to offset the higher costs of fuel for some departments, Gray said. The Road and Bridge Department budgeted $250,000 for gas and fuel in 2005. But because of rising fuel costs, the department is budgeting $500,000 in 2006, according to the proposed budget commissioners approved last month. Commissioners also plan to use some money to build capital reserves, Gray said.

Commissioners will decide what programs to cut based on how many people a specific program serves.

"We will try to provide the services that benefit the most people," Gray said.

That could mean selling the Shadow Mountain Clubhouse and Pool. The county spent $94,668 on the pool in 2005. If Referendum 1A had passed, they would have spent $109,725 on the pool in 2006. Commissioners have not made a decision on Shadow Mountain yet, Commissioner Saed Tayyara said.

"It is a touchy spot," Tayyara said.

Commissioners will decide exactly what expenses to cut in the coming weeks, Tayyara said.

"All of the options are on the table," he said.

Brandon Johansson can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 213, or bjohansson@craigdailypress.com

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