Eagle County prepares to pass 2011 budget | VailDaily.com

Eagle County prepares to pass 2011 budget

EAGLE, Colorado – The days when Eagle County’s government had money to spare are officially over.

The Eagle County commissioners are set to vote next week on the 2011 budget. That budget will cut general fund spending by about 16 percent. That drop includes cutting 37 full-time employees, either through “early retirement” packages or outright layoffs. From its high-water mark in 2009, the county will have cut a total of 77 employees in 2010 and 2011.

“That’s a huge number of people,” Eagle County Commissioner Peter Runyon said. “I don’t want anyone to think we don’t take this seriously.”

Commissioners Sara Fisher said many of the people let go are friends she’s made over the last 20 years.

“These weren’t personal decisions, but personnel decisions,” Fisher said. “I recognize how challenging this is for those who may or may not be able to continue to live in our valley.”

The county’s general fund will spend just more than $32 million next year. Overall county spending will be about $90 million. The rest of that spending will be in various departments that have their own property tax sources – the road and bridge department – or like the county landfill, depend on fees.

County finance director John Lewis said the general fund is the only source of money available to the commissioners that has any real flexibility. County officials are using that flexibility next year to bank about $6 million in order to cover shortfalls coming in 2012 and beyond.

Because of the way state law requires counties to assess property and collect taxes, the real estate slump of the last two years won’t show up in tax collections until 2012. That’s when Eagle County Assessor Mark Chapin expects property tax collections to drop by an average of 30 percent or more.

Other county revenues have already fallen dramatically, from a 75 percent drop in investment income to a 26 percent fall in sales tax collections over the last two years.

Lewis has estimated that revenues will stop falling in 2011, but will grow very slowly after that. That means the $6 million the county banks next year will cover revenue shortfalls from 2012 through at least 2015.

“It’s been a stressful couple of years, but we’re in a very good position moving forward,” county manager Keith Montag said.

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