Craig Declining revenues are, and will continue to be, a major issue for Moffat County officials for the foreseeable future, Budget Analyst Tinneal Gerber said.
Thankfully, the county’s budget is based primarily on property tax, she added, which means the county will have time to prepare.
Gerber presented the Moffat County Commission with a proposed budget at its meeting Tuesday, one that the commissioners and her have been discussing since this summer.
Figuring out how and where to cut expenses to balance falling revenue has been a long, difficult process, the commissioners said.
“This year’s budget has been different than last year’s budget because we’ve had to dig into what we’re going to do in 2012 and beyond,” Commissioner Tom Mathers said. “If we can make some cuts now, it’s like we can ease the pain as we go.”
Moffat County does not want to be faced with the fiscal crisis that Routt County went through the past two years, Commissioner Tom Gray said.
Routt County ordered across-the-board spending cuts to all departments, a wage freeze and furlough days for its employees when revenues from sales taxes and local permits dropped.
Property taxes, which make up most of Moffat County’s revenue, are paid two years after the property was valued, unlike sales tax and permit fees, which vary monthly.
Since the county can project a large portion of its revenue out two years, officials know county revenue will drop about 10 to 15 percent from 2010 to 2011, and likely drop further in 2012.
At the same time property values are dropping, the county also has to contend with decreasing mineral lease and severance tax revenue, and the state Legislature cutting millions from spending to balance its own budget.
“I always try to remain optimistic, but it’s getting harder and harder,” Mathers said about the notion that the economy may soon turn around. “I don’t think we’re hitting the bottom, yet.”
However, for 2010, the commissioners said they do not plan to cut any services or ask the voters for a tax increase.
They have asked all department managers to submit flat budgets — that is budgets that do not call for spending more money in 2010 than in 2009.
The commissioners also will not give employees a cost-of-living wage increase — which they said was because the Consumer Price Index showed the national cost of living went down — and plan to look at how the county can consolidate services in the future.
Gerber said the county probably will have to make bigger spending cuts in years ahead and that the budget may change during 2010, even after the commission approves it as revenues change.
Gray said Moffat County is better prepared to weather some lean years because of its reserves, which stand at about 42 percent of operating expenses, but he did not want to give the impression that the county is impervious to bigger problems down the road.
“You can only do so much preparation, and you do the best you can,” he said. “That’s not to say there’s some things you can’t anticipate. I don’t want to put it out there that we’re bulletproof or infallible.”