County budget holding steady
The $70 million plan is down about $1 million from last year, says County Administrator Jack Ingstad.
“We’re extremely healthy,” Ingstad says. “That’s because we’ve been conservative for the past four years. Now it’s paying off.”
Eagle County is doing exceptionally well compared to the state and other counties, Ingstad added. Summit County is considering cutting their budget by $2 million and reducing services; Pitkin County is asking taxpayers for a tax boost.
The state, meanwhile, also is considering cuts of up to $388 million from its budget.
“We have a strong balanced budget because of the collaboration of all our staff,” says Commissioner Tom Stone. “This budget is possible because we’ve been very conservative. When the economy was good we began to cut back. We didn’t expand our services, and as a result we build up our reserves.”
Ingstad has made a recommendation to the commissioners, who are reviewing the proposed budget. Ingstad’s final recommendation will come in October and commissioners will vote on the budget in December.
“I think we’ll have an easy decision and probably go with Jack’s proposal,” Stone says. “The decision we’ll have to make is where we’ll focus our capital improvements.”
A decision on whether county officials will be able to reduce property tax rates again is still pending, Ingstad said. From 1991 to 2002, the county has lowered the tax rate every year, from 10.4 percent to the current 6.99 percent.
“All this construction is creating wealth and we don’t need so much money because of the additional taxes,” he says. “This decision will be up to the commissioners, though.”
Last fiscal year, the county was able to return $2 million to its reserves, says Julie Snyder, county controller.
“Also, we won’t spend our reserves,” Ingstad adds.
To prepare the budget, a two-month job that started in July, county officials had to consider:
– Revenue from sales taxes – which account for 15 percent of the county’s revenues – is down 8 percent from 2001.
– Interest income will be off 17 percent in fiscal year 2003.
– Revenues from building fees for 2002 and 2003 is budgeted to decrease 15 percent from 2001 levels.
“Although revenue from sales tax and building permits are down, revenue from property taxes will go up, so that’s one extra revenue source,” Snyder says.
Ingstad says next year the county will continue to be conservative without cutting back services and live within its means.
“We’re matching revenues and expenditures,” he says. “We’ll be adding new programs and shifting resources to get as much as we can from every dollar.”
The county, however, will not add any employees and is cutting back on travel and training expenses.
“We’ll go without the wish list,” Ingstad said. “For example, staff proposed to build a new jail and we’re not going to do it.”
One of the reasons the county is so healthy financially, Ingstad says, is that four years ago the commissioners decided to be and stayed conservative.
“We anticipated that the robust economy could go down,” he says. “There’s always a boom and there’s always a bust.”
Ingstad says he expects the commissioners to be conservative again this year.
“A conservative government is unusual,” he says. “But we think the storm is still there and we need to protect taxpayers of future tax increases.”
Commissioner Arn Menconi credits Ingstad with keeping the county “fiscally responsible.
“From when Jack to over the reigns, there’s been a more prudent budget,” Menconi says. “Last year, we took a fiscally responsible approach to sales tax revenues and were conservative on capital projects. … Now we’re looking at a 2003 budget with a great starting point – with no emergencies, no shortfalls.”
The first public hearing on the budget will be on Oct. 29. Another hearing is scheduled for Nov. 19. The county will take public comment until the budget’s adoption on Dec. 10.