Commissioners vote against tax hike |

Commissioners vote against tax hike

Mill levy increase will not be decided on November ballot; existing funds to be reallocated instead

Ryan Sheridan

One of Moffat County’s bragging points is that it has the second-lowest tax in the state, and that selling point will continue to be true for the near future.

The Moffat County Commissioners decided Tuesday against asking for a mill levy increase on the November ballot, and will instead relocate existing funds within the budget to cover revenue shortfalls.

With roughly half the county’s property tax revenues coming from state assessed property, the recent devaluation of Tri-State Generation and Transmission has translated into serious funding problems for the county.

The loss of $410,000 for the 2001 budget was replaced by a Energy and Mineral Impact Assistance Grant and the county successfully appealed a portion of another devaluation, this time to the 2002 budget, but still lost $284,000 in revenue.

Based on this year’s expenditures, the county will be $166,000 short of budget next year.

“With the Energy Impact Grant of $410,000, we didn’t really feel the hit we took in 2001. Next year, our budget will be short $166,000 . This one we will feel, because there won’t be a grant to cover the loss; we’ll just be short of what we need to operate at the same level we did this year,” Moffat County Administrative Services Director Debra Murray reported to the Commissioners on Tuesday. “A five-year capital plan would be very valuable; it would be good to gather the department heads and prioritize what projects and plans need to be done. We really need to look at some type of long-term planning.”

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Murray’s asked the commissioners to consider raising the mill levy rate to replace the state assessed valuation losses, and future valuation losses.

The power plant is projected to continue to lose value, Murray said, and for Moffat County to continue being solvent and serviceable, another form of revenue is needed.

Moffat County Commissioner Les Hampton suggested that each department’s budget be reduced by 2 to 3 percent, reflecting the loss the total budget suffers. This solution was labeled an option, but a problematic one, since each budget couldn’t be uniformly reduced, and the process to remove the loss piecemeal would be extremely complex, and expensive in time, money and effort.

The demand for services in Moffat County has been a strong one, according to Moffat County Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos, and fiscal cutbacks would make meeting those needs difficult.

“Five or six years ago, the County Commissioners reduced the mill levy. At that time, it was thought the state assessed valuations would continue to go up. They didn’t,” she said. “The county is now operating on less money, and doing more.

“That’s good, but people want more and more services, so cutting the budget further doesn’t seem realistic.

“The thought process was when the citizens needed more services, the county would go back and ask for [a mill levy increase]. That would be difficult to do.”

Raftopoulos said that in addition to services, Moffat County’s infrastructure also needs investment.

The library, hospital and school buildings need attention.

Before the last five years, infrastructure investment was almost non-existent, Raftopoulos said.

The situation might have another angle, according to Moffat County Commissioner T. Wright Dickinson.

“We don’t want to run off the cliff yet. We are on the edge of an energy boom there will be significant development in the north and west of the area. We have a big pipeline in place for telecommunications, private industries are building up and oil rigs are coming in,” Dickinson said. “I personally think that a year from now, we could see an upturn. That is an opinion, but I really think we’ll start to see some upticks.”

The financial benefits from resource development won’t be seen in time to make up the $166,000 shortfall in the 2002 budget, but the potential for those benefits decreases the need for a tax increase, Dickinson said.

In place of a mill levy request, Murray asked the commissioners to consider reorganizing how the mill levy revenue is spent. The landfill fund receives $300,000 a year in property tax revenue, and “that fund right now is really healthy.

“We could give the landfill fund $150,000 less, and have that money replace the loss. We could increase the landfill fees slightly to cover some of the difference, but the fund is a healthy one, so even that might not be necessary,” she said. “It’s important to have a healthy fund, and we don’t want to lose that, but this choice could give us the money we need without raising taxes or harming the landfill’s financial situation.”

The landfill’s budget presently has a balance of $648,000, Murray reported.

The Commissioners agreed that if the option is feasible, it is the best choice.

“It’s important to work within the budget first to address financial problems,” Raftopoulos said. “When we started putting money towards the landfill, the understanding was if the landfill fund can sustain itself, the money could be used in another area. The $150,000 to the general fund would cover our $166,000 loss.”

Transferring 50 percent of the landfill funds to the general fund made sense to both Hampton and Dickinson.

“We’re trying every way we can not to raise property taxes. If shifting funds over can help, and we can keep the landfill solid and solvent, we’re existing within our mill levy, and that’s good business for everyone,” Dickinson said.

The Commissioners directed Murray look at transferring funds from the landfill budget to the general fund to verify that the option is feasible. Murray will report back as soon as she has studied the numbers.

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