Eagle County eyes $120 million budget for 2018; review begins Tuesday, Dec. 5 | VailDaily.com

Eagle County eyes $120 million budget for 2018; review begins Tuesday, Dec. 5

EAGLE COUNTY — Eagle County's 2018 spending plan isn't super tantalizing considering it will total $120 million.

Next year's budget doesn't launch any comprehensive new programs, fund massive open space purchases or contemplate any major capital projects.

As proposed, expenditures across all funds are budgeted at $120 million, down from $158 million in 2017. The reduction is primarily due to large capital projects funded in 2017 at the Eagle County Regional Airport and the acquisition of the Hardscrabble Ranch by the open space fund. Next year's general fund operating expenditures will be approximately $41.6 million, representing a 14.4 percent decrease from 2017 expenses.

Next year's reduction in spending reflects the decision made in 2017 to loan money from the general fund to the open space fund for the Hardscrabble Ranch acquisition and the construction of a new roundabout in El Jebel. In addition, the Eagle County commissioners have set a minimum general fund reserve target of $13.1 million. The general fund reserve balance is expected to be approximately $23.3 million at the end of 2017 and $25.4 million at the end of 2018.

Revenues

According to Eagle County Finance Director Jill Klosterman, 2017 revenues have come in higher than anticipated. That's a key part of money planning for 2018.

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Eagle County receives approximately 22 percent of its revenues from property taxes, 20 percent from sales tax and 33 percent from charges for services.

According to Klosterman, the county's sales tax collections are on target to beat 2017 estimates, despite a couple of factors that traditionally result in sales tax dips. She pointed to this year's late Easter as one example. Easter hit in April versus March.

"When Easter is early, people go on ski vacations; when it's later, they are more likely to go to the beach," she said.

Additionally, last year saw a late start for winter conditions. However, during the summer months, collections were higher than 2016 figures.

Property tax revenues will increase to reflect the 2016 reappraisal. Property taxes are paid in arrears, so 2017 taxes that will be paid in 2018 reflect the county's gross total assessed valuation increase of 10 percent. The county's total assessed value now tops $3.2 million.

The county's total 2018 spending will top $120 million, but that figure includes debt payments and special funds. The county will spend 49 percent of that total budget on salaries and benefits.

Salaries and benefits

While salaries and benefits comprise nearly half of the county's 2018 spending plan, that figure does not indicate a surge in hiring. The county anticipates six new positions in 2018 and the majority of those will be dedicated to the Eagle County Sheriff's Office. Next year, the county will reopen a 40-bed direct supervision pod at the county jail. Expenditures related to this effort include salaries and benefits for four new detention deputies to staff the pod.

"The Sheriff's Office felt very strongly it was time to reopen that pod," Klosterman said. The pod has not been in use for several years, but Sheriff's Office officials believe they have reached the point where the 40-prisoner capacity facility is needed.

The county is projecting lower health insurance costs next year and has included a 3 percent merit raise pool for employees in its 2018 spending.

Big ticket items

The county's largest capital expenditures in 2018 include a new facilities management building to be located near the county's road and bridge structures off Cooley Mesa Road in Gypsum.

Klosterman noted that currently, the facilities management operations are split between a stand-alone building located as part of the Eagle County offices in downtown Eagle and an old structure located in west Eagle. The new $2.25 million structure will consolidate the entire department.

Klosterman added the county's departure from the west Eagle site also opens up the area for future uses. The site has been identified as a possible location for workforce housing development, although high infrastructure costs are anticipated for the area.

"The only way we will really know is to get a developer to look at it," Klosterman said.

In 2018, a $30 million terminal expansion project at the Eagle County Regional Airport will begin. That project will be funded by airport fees and will include the construction of jet bridges so passengers will no longer have to exit airplane via a staircase that ends outside of the terminal and requires a short walk in the elements to get to the building.

"They will start on that project as soon as the busy season ends," Klosterman said.

Other highlights

Other highlights of the 2018 county budget include:

• $250,000 for a comprehensive rewrite of the county's land-use regulations.

• $180,000 for early childhood development programs in the Eagle River and Roaring Fork valleys.

• $1 million to complete the Eagle to Horn Ranch segment of the Eagle Valley Trail.

• $500,000 in collections from the new county mental health fund, with money coming from a new sales tax, approved by the voters in November, on retail marijuana sales.

Eagle County 2018 budget hearing

The Eagle County Board of Commissioners will review the county’s proposed 2018 budget beginning at approximately 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 5. The meeting will take place in the Eagle County Room, located at 500 Broadway in Eagle. All interested community members are encouraged to attend.

Final adoption of the budget and the county’s mill levy is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 12, with certification of mill levies for all taxing entities set for Thursday, Dec. 21.