Firm hired by Moffat County Board of County Commissioners to gain voter input on potential ballot measure
CRAIG — Before asking voters to approve a ballot measure, the Moffat County Board of County Commissioners will pay up to $25,000 to a consulting firm for research and advice on increasing county revenue.
During its regular meeting Tuesday, the BOCC approved a contract with the George K. Baum and Company, an investment-banking firm that specializes in municipal finance and taxable fixed incomes. The decision comes as the county faces declining revenue streams.
“Consulting voters before a measure is put on the ballot shows respect and transparency,” said Commissioner Ray Beck, speaking from talking points provided by Baum at this week’s BOCC meeting. “Voters should have the opportunity to provide input. They should be educated about any potential tax measure.”
According to the agreement, Baum will provide a number of services related to public policy. The firm will guide the board in forming a database of “key influencers,” people who shape community opinions. Baum will also assemble a list of active voters and “assist with issue framing, messaging, copywriting and oversight” of mailings and other communications with voters and key influencers. Baum will also develop questions for mail-in and telephone polls to these two groups. Baum consultants will train the BOCC and county staff on public policy strategies and develop a budget and timeline for the public policy program.
“With declining revenues, we’ve got to come up with another revenue source, and it isn’t going to be a one-time, end-all deal, but we’ve got to start somewhere,” Beck said. “That’s one of the biggest reasons why we wanted to bring in this professional. This is going to be a cooperative, collaborative public process. There’s going to be opportunities for the public input.”
Last year, the BOCC aimed to reduce the county’s spending by $2.5 million, cutting $1.7 million in a number of spending categories, leaving an additional $800,000 to reduce this year.
The cuts are still coming.
Just this week, the BOCC reallocated $25,001 intended for the Memorial Regional Health Foundation. Commissioner Don Cook said that shifting these dollars allowed the county to avoid reducing county department budgets, a move he said would have impacted county personnel. The $25,001 was added to professional services – other, an existing budget item that now contains about $82,000 the county can use to pay for professional services, such as short-term contract workers, soil-testing or the Baum consultants.
“We appreciate the county commission considered that contribution to the MRH Foundation in the first place,” said Andy Daniels, CEO of Memorial Regional Health. “They have some tough budget decisions to do. The county is very supportive of us. They did what they had to do for the best interests of the county.”
State demographic data shows that, between July 2010 and July 2016, Moffat County’s population decreased by 718, a 5-percent decline. Most of the county’s income comes from property, sales and severance taxes, and revenues from these taxes have either flat-lined or continue to decline. The valuation of county property taxes has decreased by more than a $100 million since 2011, a trend the BOCC expects to continue in 2018, Beck said.
The BOCC believes the Baum agreement is worth its price tag, and Beck was hopeful Baum’s services could cost less than the $25,000 cap.
“Elections, as you all know, can be costly,” Beck said during Tuesday’s BOCC meeting. “It would be irresponsible to take on that expense without first having some understanding about public sentiment regarding the ballot measure.”
Commissioners say they don’t have the public policy expertise or the empty schedules required to determine what sort of ballot measure would best work for Moffat County.
“I don’t have the expertise and the knowledge to go out and definitively say ‘this is the best option for the county as far as a tax measure,’ Cook said. “They’re going to try to develop what they think will pass and then bring it back to us and give us the option of doing something.”
The BOCC first became interested in working with Baum after Cook and Beck attended the Colorado Counties Winter Conference, where Beck attended a presentation from the company about capital finance options for small and medium counties. In December, the BOCC, elected county officials and county staff met with Baum consultant Alan Matlosz for a similar presentation. Some of the options presented, such as a new tax, bonds or debt measures, could be among the options the firm recommends to the BOCC.
“Everybody that’s lived in this county for a long time knows its very, very difficult to pass a tax measure, and so we want to go out and do everything we can to keep the taxes as low as possible but also to balance this budget,” Cook said.
Baum and Matlosz have worked with the county and city before.
In 2000, Baum helped the city design the bond process to build the Public Safety Center and was consulted when MRH was discussing renovating or rebuilding the hospital. In 2003, Baum was hired by the Craig City Council to develop a ballot measure that would have built a recreation center in Craig.
The measure made it to voters, who ultimately rejected it. The firm also helped the county refinance loans and certificates for the public safety center in 2003 and 2006. In 2015, Baum underwrote bonds and other financial instruments for the county.
“This is going to be outreach. It is going to be community driven,” said Commissioner Frank Moe. “They’re the ones that have the expertise, so it’s going to be from and of the community, and they’ll be able to put the information before us to have a successful tax measure.”
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