Eagle County commissioner candidates consider budget excesses
EAGLE COUNTY —This week, we pose the following question to the candidates for the Eagle County Board of Commissioners: What things are in the county’s budget that shouldn’t be? Here are their answers:
Kathy Chandler-Henry, Democrat, District 2
That’s a tricky question to ask a sitting county commissioner! The county’s budget is actually an amalgam of several budgets including the general fund, road and bridge, the airport, social services, open space, transportation, public health, emergency services and capital improvements. Each of these budgets and funds has reserve requirements and must balance revenues and expenditures every year. Some budget expenditures are state- or federally mandated, such as child protection, flood plain planning and airport safety. Some are voter-approved, such as transportation and open space. In any service-providing entity the biggest percentage of expenditures is always personnel. So the question before the county staff and commissioners each year is, “How do we provide the highest quality services, in the most efficient manner, with the appropriate staff and resources, to meet the needs and demands of county residents?” That last part gets to the tricky question I mentioned earlier. “Needs” and “demands” aren’t necessarily objective criteria, and in any free-market economy there is always competition for scarce resources. Some budget items such as the 800 megahertz radio system used to have bigger funding streams (land line fees) — the dollars have declined but the need is still there. Other items are driven by new circumstances — for example, declining enplanements at the airport and the argument to spend money on flight guarantees. Sometimes Mother Nature calls the shots, and we spend extra to keep the roads safe and passable. The best way to make sure the “things in the county’s budget” are the things that should be there is to have well-developed strategic priorities and to allocate the budget based on those goals. Our priorities that drive the budget are quality services, economic vitality, environmental stewardship, community resiliency and social investment. Firmly attached to this strategic planning is input from county residents, towns and special districts. Working together, we can be wise guardians of our public money.
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Courtney Holm, Republican, District 2
The county needs to be especially cognizant of how and where the taxpayer money is spent. This not only includes the careful consideration of allocating the money to core services as needed, but looking for the most efficient way to provide services and make very deliberate choices for lowest cost for quality options. Each line of the budget needs to be scrutinized and analyzed on a cost/benefit analysis to determine where items should be reduced, cut, or reallocated. Additionally, the proposed budget for that year which gets approved prior to spending should be reviewed with the audit of the spending at the end of that year to see in what areas that improvement could be made and in which areas additional funds were paid out of each fund. Transparency of the government is important not only on a large scale of total money spent from each fund, but also as readily available and accessible documentation and accountability of where each allocation has gone and for what specific purpose. When the county provides money to specific businesses and nonprofits, it should be for a valuable necessary service not achievable at a lower cost elsewhere or within the county’s already existing structure at a lower cost. The budget is split into separate funds including the general fund, road and bridge fund, social services fund, open space fund, etc. Budgeted expenditures for 2014 were increased from 2013 levels by 2.5 percent for all the funds combined and by 16.1 percent in the general fund.
Core services, safety including pedestrian and bike connectivity safety and transportation are very important to our communities. The needs of the county are ever changing and need a constant review and the same careful attention that our individual taxpayers would weigh in increasing their spending.
Dick Mayne, Republican, District 3
This is a question that really can’t or shouldn’t be answered in detail by a new commissioner candidate. When elected, I will work hard to study all components of the county’s budget and work with all the various department heads to ensure that the money the county is spending is used conservatively, wisely and within the will of the constituents I serve.
In the two decades I have served on the Gypsum Town Council, I have worked hard with my fellow elected officials as well as staff to ensure a solid, fiscally managed budget that has been maintained debt free with healthy reserves. During the worst of the economic collapse, I worked hard in Gypsum to make sure there were no cuts in services, no layoffs and no furloughs. We worked together and responded to the downturn by cutting expenses, primarily by being patient with new capital projects. We worked harder to save money from projects rather than going into debt to fund new capital improvements.
When elected, my first year in office will be under the 2015 budget adopted by the current Board of Commissioners. I fully appreciate the difficult times these commissioners have been through. However, in 2016 revenues are forecast to increase due to a rising economy. My promise is to work within the current tax structure and the rising revenue generated by it to provide the needed services for Eagle County and to carefully apportion revenue to provide the maximum benefit to infrastructure, job creation, environmental and social needs.
I will spend the time to carefully analyze the budget and come to an educated decision to determine what items are, and perhaps, no longer a priority. I will also work to identify the things that could become a greater priority in moving forward Eagle County’s vibrant economy.
Jeanne McQueeney, Democrat, District 3
The county budget was significantly cut during the last four years. The smaller budget reflects the input of all county employees. Some of the budget cuts were very painful; reducing important programs, retiring talented and effective staff, in addition to layoffs. The smaller budget retains an emphasis on the county’s core values and statutory obligations.
The county is operating from a set of strategic priorities, which includes social investment, economic vitality, sustainable communities and environmental stewardship. I would like to see these priorities fleshed out to include work plans with measurable outcomes. With a more developed strategic plan, specific priorities could be funded at a level to assure the achievement of outcomes. It is also possible to adjust the budget against items that are not achieving their expected results, or results that do not align with the strategic priorities.
As commissioner I would like to reflect on the efficiency of the budget. For example, are there items that could be completed more effectively and efficiently through a public-private partnership? Are there other items that are currently being contracted out that could be completed more effectively and efficiently internally? Let’s identify the areas that are successful that should continue to be funded.
Each item in the budget should be reviewed as an investment. It will be important to look at the return on investment on each item and its benefit to the citizens of Eagle County.
The economic recovery brings opportunities to re-invest and re-focus our resources for maximum impact. As your county commissioner, I want to ensure that your local government is efficient and responsive.