Moffat County commissioners, Craig City Council members and county and city staff met for a joint budget workshop Tuesday evening before the regular Craig City Council meeting. The workshop included an update to projected 2014 revenues and follow-up from the July joint discussions about revenue generation, cost-cutting and cost-sharing.
The lodging tax increased 4 percent from May, but it is still down 30 percent from 2013.
“Pre-bookings for hunting season are about or slightly lower than in previous years,” said Frank Moe, a meeting attendee and owner of the Best Western Plus Deer Park Lodge and Suites and candidate for Moffat County Commissioner, when asked for his opinion by county officials. “If it gets going oil and gas or work at the plants would help fill in between hunting seasons.”
Sales tax revenues remain constant and continue to reflect an 8 percent decrease from 2013. Bringing new businesses into the area is one way to increase sales tax revenues, but Commissioner Tom Mathers related a story of the difficulties he recently faced in receiving the necessary city approvals for new business signage.
“The building code was finalized in 2006, perhaps it’s time to review it and see if we can identify improvements that would encourage business development,” city Council member Jarrod Ogden said.
Permitting for construction is another important revenue stream for the county and city.
So far, the county has had one permit for new construction of a home and three for cabins. The city’s new construction numbers were not discussed in detail, but the overall trend was for no new homes and very little new commercial construction.
“These are the worst construction figures for at least the past ten years,” County Assessor Robert Razzano said.
Oil and gas development has also slowed with only one new well and 3 new permits.
“Next year we will reappraise values and I would expect at least a 10 to 15 percent drop,” said Razzano. “Development seems to be flat or on a downward trend.”
Razzano added that coal production numbers are up slightly.
With revenues projected to continue to be flat or declining, the county and city have been working to identify ways to increase revenues or decrease or share costs.
“We have the same tax level now as we did 20 years ago, and we are trying to provide the same levels of service now as we did then despite the increased costs of those services,” City Manager Jim Ferree said.
One of the revenue raising ideas being discussed is the creation of a recreation district, of which Mayor Terry Carwile and Council member Ray Beck were in favor.
“We should look at the type of district that would work for us,” Beck said. “Rec District, art district, or whatever seems best.”
County and city staff are planning to further research how other areas in the region have established similar districts.
The county and city are also exploring ways to create efficiencies without impacting services including sharing staff such as a building inspector. Currently, both employ a building inspector, but as construction has declined so too has the need for inspections. As the current staff retire or look to pursue other opportunities it might be time to explore either contracting inspection services out to a firm or sharing inspection staff between the county and city.
“The position was shared in the past and it worked out pretty well except for vehicle and transportation costs,” said Randy Call, city road and bridge director. “We should work out the details upfront and build in increases as activity.”
Also discussed to bring costs down was the idea of reducing costs by increasing purchasing power by combining buying of fuel and propane. Two other areas of discussion included ways to increase entertainment and a review of the contributions made by each government entity.
Council member Kent Nielson mentioned the Craig/Moffat County Economic Development Partnership as something that “seems like a waste of taxpayer money.”
“We are not seeing an impact,” he said.
“Like any employee, if you give them money and they are not performing, if we haven’t expressed that, then we are part of the problem,” he said. “We shouldn’t ignore the importance of economic development but find ways to do it in more efficient and effective ways.”
This week, the county commission will meet with representatives from Lamar County Landfill as part of the process of improving area landfill services and therefore increasing revenues. A discussion of the county's health clinic was postponed for a future meeting.
The next county and city joint budget workshop is scheduled to occur next month, most likely Sept. 23, before the regularly scheduled City Council meeting.