County budget looks tight
Vail CO, Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY ” Thanks to less revenue coming in, the county says its budget for next year will be “tough,” but some residents who saw huge increases in their property tax bills last year said they aren’t convinced.
The revenues coming in to Eagle County next year will only increase by 2.5 percent over last year, probably not enough to cover county growth, salary and benefits and hiring employees for the new Justice Center, said County Finance Director John Lewis.
He points to a decrease in license and permit fees, slowing sales tax revenues, and property tax revenue that is expected to rise only 0.6 percent next year as the culprits.
However, some taxpayers, especially members of the Taxpayers for Common Sense, an activist group, said they are skeptical.
Assessed values in Eagle County rose an average of 43 percent last year, causing some residents to see dramatic increases in their property taxes.
Taxpayers for Common Sense organizer Buddy Shipley said he is still worried that property taxes might increase more than the predicted 0.6 percent.
He said he still doesn’t believe the county needed the increase in revenue.
“They’re spending money on things that they shouldn’t be spending on in the first place, and they should stop it,” Shipley said. “With our budgets, when we can’t afford it, we stop spending money. The county commissioners don’t feel that way.”
Singletree homeowner Buddy Sims said he thinks a 2.5-percent increase in budget should be enough for the county.
“It seems to me that if seniors in the valley can get by on a 2.3-percent cost of living allowance (increase), then why can’t the county government in 2009?” said Sims, a retiree. “Could it be they have lost control of their annual budget and (are) spending on special projects?”
The county’s xeriscaping project, investment in workforce housing at Stratton Flats, consulting studies for the Eagle County airport and the $20 million expansion of the Justice Center are some of the major expenses the county could have cut, Sims said.
None of those projects are funded by property taxes, said Lewis ” property taxes go into the county’s general fund, which pays mostly for operations and employee salaries and benefits.
“Most of these things people point to aren’t even funded by property taxes,” Lewis said.
Xeriscaping was paid for from the capital improvements fund, which is funded by sales taxes. The airport has its own self-generated funds for the marketing study, and the county hopes to pay for workforce housing with funds from the sale of Lake Creek in Edwards, Lewis said.
Lewis said the big jump in assessed values last year followed five years of little or no increase.
The trend usually is to have a larger increase every couple years, giving governments a boost in income.
Last year’s increased revenues helped the county “catch up,” Lewis said.
“If it weren’t for the increase last year, we would have been laying people off or cutting services,” he said.
He predicts that if there is another big jump in assessed values the next few years, the county will lower the mill levy.
In the coming years, the county may not fill some vacant positions or slow down some of the salary and benefit increases to make the budget work, county commissioners said.
Sims said those suggestions were an “insult to the taxpayer.”
“How about cut some of the unneeded projects and live under a budget like the rest of us taxpayers!” he said.
Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.