County faces tough spending decisions
A draft version of next year’s Eagle County budget suggests charging peripheral programs like ECO Transit and Eagle County Regional Airport an administrative fee to help offset a $4 million shortfall. The county manages the money for several programs that are not funded by the county’s general fund. It isn’t unusual for a county or city to charge an administrative fee to cover the staffing costs for managing those funds, said Jack Ingstad, county administrator. Up until now, the cost of managing those programs has come out of the county’s general fund.”We are charging a 3 percent fee,” Ingstad said. “The typical fee is 4 to 10 percent. We figured it’s hard for them to absorb that (in the first year).”The general fund pays for the county’s general operations – such as administration, the Assessor’s Office, the Sheriff’s Office – and is comprised of money gathered from the county’s tax revenue stream. Rising health insurance costs, new purchases and building repairs are contributing to the an estimated $31 million in general fund expenditures next year. But the county only expects to have about $27.3 million to spend.
By limiting new hires and by assessing a 3 percent administrative fee to manage the funds for road and bridge work, the county bus system and the county airport, among others, county officials have reduced that shortfall to about $1.2 million. The remainder of the excess expenditures could be taken care of by using reserve funds or by using an anticipated $1 million pay back on the Miller Ranch property in Edwards. The county gets a portion of the profits from Miller Ranch home sales and that money is pay back for money the county spent purchasing the land for Miller Ranch, where affordable homes and apartments are being built.The Board of County Commissioners ultimately has the final say in the 2005 budget. They are expected to adopt next year’s spending plan in December.Under the current spending proposal, only one new position will be added to the county budget – a senior citizen’s site coordinator in Minturn – and a position in the community development department will be eliminated. This change will actually result in a slight reduction in the number of staff being paid out of the county’s general fund.Don’t plan on any layoffs, however. While there are more than 20 “frozen” positions, no one will lose a job to balance the budget, county officials said.
Health care costs are expected to increase $1.3 million next year. The county health care coverage is generous compared to what most private companies in the valley offer: Employees only have a $5 co-pay and enjoy coverage for chiropractic care and massages. Unfortunately, some employees may be taking advantage of that. The county’s insurance carrier reporter 26,000 claims were filed for chiropractic care alone. Employees are being asked to consider increasing their contribution for health care. Even raising the co-pay to $10 could help offset some of the mounting costs, Ingstad said. In addition to the 20 “frozen” positions, departments across the county requested an additional 21 positions for next year as well. “We are in a tremendous growth in our county, but I can honestly say everybody has had to do more essentially with less,” said Helen Migchelbrink, county engineer and member of the county’s staffing committee.The Sheriff’s Office has five vacant positions and is requesting funding for 15 new positions. Other vacant positions range from animal control officers, bus drivers and case workers for the health and human services department. Tamara Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgVail Colorado