Existing services top priority list; funding new projects at bottom

Keeping promises

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Necessities drive commission's 2009 budget

Before the Moffat County Commission sat down with Budget Analyst Tinneal Gerber this fall, its members had certain priorities for the county's 2009 budget.

Capital expenses, contributions to outside organizations and new employees were least important.

Maintaining services despite losses in revenue was the No. 1 issue.

Below are five points high on the commission's agenda for 2009:

• Maintain fund reserves at responsible levels

- county officials believe it is highly likely they will spend some reserve funds because of increasing costs, decreasing revenue

- in prior years, the county set kept 30 percent of each department's operating revenue in savings, but only a 10 percent emergency reserve was kept in 2008

- the county will have to watch spending regardless, Gerber said, because state tax laws limit revenue the county can keep for 2010

- departments will need a reasonable amount of cash to carry over for following years to ensure current services continue

• Maintain county roads

- increase funding about 10 percent, or $50,000, for magnesium chloride road spray, which helps seal asphalt together and limits dust

- plan to repave another 6.5 miles of County Road 7 northwest of Craig after paving about 6 miles in 2008

- the county expects to request 75 percent of the County Road 7 project costs, or about $1,125,000, from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs

• Maintain county buildings and infrastructure

- the county is accepting bids from statewide architecture firms to study moving county courtrooms to the Public Safety Center; officials will open bids Oct. 28

- officials will work with the Governor's Energy Office to update County Courthouse heating and air conditioning units to be energy efficient

- deterioration at county parking lots is severe enough that lots at the Courthouse, County Fairgrounds and Loudy-Simpson Park could be destroyed without maintenance

• Take care of county employees

- increase wages, salaries for inflation, possibly costing an additional $450,000 to $610,000

- provide health insurance without passing on to employees all new premium costs, a roughly $350,000 increase from 2008

• Maintain resident services at current levels

- the Commission has not asked any department to cut services because of revenue losses

- at the same time, no department has been instructed to add services

The one consideration deemed most important for the county's 2009 budget is making good on its promise to provide residents with services they need, Budget Analyst Tinneal Gerber said.

The county expects to receive about $600,000 less in taxes for the coming year than it did for 2008, primarily because the value of natural gas dipped this year, which negatively affects property taxes paid to the county for next year.

The Moffat County Commission has not - and does not plan to - ask any department to cut funding for services, such as road maintenance or hours of operation for county offices.

To do that, the county will operate in a temporary deficit.

If the Commission approves every budget request submitted by county departments and outside agencies, its deficit will be about $1.4 million. However, that is not likely, Gerber said.

The Commission was given a copy of the 2009 proposed budget at its meeting Tuesday. Commissioners will sort through requests and figures leading up to a public hearing Nov. 18 and a scheduled final adoption Dec. 9.

By statute, the county's budget must be finalized by Dec. 15.

The Commission has about $3.4 million in capital requests, such as new equipment and replacement vehicles, as well as $126,500 in funding requests from outside agencies to consider.

Each of those will be judged by their importance and whether the county can afford them, Gerber said.

If the county approved every capital request, it still would spend about $1 million less in 2009 than 2008.

"That's because we are really starting to get on track with equipment replacement," Gerber said.

The county spent about $13.2 million on capital expenditures in the past three years.

By contrast, the total amount of funding requested from outside agencies exceeds the amount given in each of the preceding three years.

That is not uncommon, as the amount given by the county has increased each year.

Requests include $21,500 to Yampa Valley Partners, $15,000 to the Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden and $20,000 for the Craig/Moffat Economic Development Partnership.

The county contributed $255,055 to outside agencies from 2006 to 2008.

Commissioner Tom Gray said during Tuesday's meeting that capital expenses and contributions will be considered among the lowest priorities.

"We need to continue to provide services," he said. "We're going to look at extras last."

The county still would have about $15.2 million in reserve should it decide to fully fund all requests.

That money needs to be kept somewhat guarded given the country's uncertain economic future and expected tax revenue losses, Gerber said.

Governments within Colorado have to be cautious when tax revenue drops because of state tax laws.

The Taxpayer's Bill of Rights requires all governments to refund any revenue back to taxpayers above a 5.5 percent increase from year to year.

Now that the county expects to lose revenue, its growth will be capped lower than before, which makes it harder to address growth over the coming years.

"That's what we have reserves for," Gerber said.

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