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Under the knife

County officials search through departments for $100,000 to bolster reserves

Josh Nichols

County officials are looking for ways to increase the general fund reserve, which means county departments will have to cut back on capital requests to a tune of $100,000.

At a Monday workshop with county Director of Administrative Services Deb Murray, the commission discussed how it will go about finding $100,000 to get the general fund reserve to the targeted $2 million balance.

Right now, about $1.9 million sits in the general fund in the proposed 2003 budget, but Murray said the goal is to keep that fund at $2 million.

The reason county officials like to keep a $2 million cushion in the general fund, Murray said, is because $4 million of general fund revenue comes from property taxes, which can be paid in different installments between January and February.

If a majority of property tax dollars do not come in until June and the county does not have reserve funds in place to cover costs until then, the county could land itself in financial trouble because of the shortfall, Murray said.

“It’s a reserve for the whole county,” she said. “It helps us to make sure we can pay our bills.”

Once the budget is approved, departments often begin ordering capital items immediately in January when a majority of taxes have not yet been collected, she said.

Capital items include such items as vehicles, building improvements and equipment.

Murray said her task involves going back to each department and assessing its requests, and discussing with department heads areas that can be cut back.

One area where dollars might be able to be saved is county employee health insurance, Murray said.

“The big thing we need to look at is health insurance and what we’re going to do with it,” she said.

Currently, the county is self insured, which means it pays the first $50,000 of all of its employees’ medical expenses. An outside insurance company picks up anything more than $50,000.

While the decision was made to be self insured before she was employed by the county, Murray said the decision was probably made to do so because often it is cheaper to be self insured.

Instead of continually dumping money into an insurance company, money can be saved by being self insured because those who are self insured only pay medical expenses when it is necessary.

But there are good years and bad years, she said, which is why she budgets for the worst-case scenario $2.1 million.

“If we don’t budget for the worst case, we put ourselves at risk of potential problems,” she said. “You don’t know when someone is going to get cancer, have a heart attack or have a baby prematurely.”

But the commissioners think $2.1 million annually might be too much.

Moffat County Commissioner T. Wright Dickinson said Murray should examine what it would cost the county to be fully insured.

The quest to ramp up the general fund balance will not affect one area employee pay raises, Murray said.

Right now, a 3-percent, across-the-board pay raise has been budgeted for Moffat County employees next year.

That may not be the exact amount employees are given, but the 3 percent has been budgeted so the county pay raise is not lost or forgotten during other budget adjustments before the Dec. 15 deadline.

Although departments will be asked to cut back on their initial requests, Murray said that is not unusual to do.

“There’s never been a year when we gave everyone exactly what they wanted,” she said. “The county is not having financial problems. The state of Colorado and a lot of other communities are in a lot worse shape than we are.”

Josh Nichols can be reached at 824-7031 or jnichols@craigdailypress.com.


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