Eagle County spending still in austerity mode | VailDaily.com

Eagle County spending still in austerity mode

2016 Eagle County government budget

By the numbers

$109 million. All funds in 2016

$150 million. All funds in 2015

$40.3 million. General fund, the checkbook by which the county conducts its day-to-day business.

$1.3 million. Decrease in general fund spending

Revenue increases

$2.8 million more property taxes

$400,000 more in sales taxes

Revenue decreases

$3 million in investment income. County investments are ties to federal interest rates, which remain nearly zero

Where it will go

$3 million more in healthcare costs will devour any revenue increases.

20 percent. The amount county staffers get back from any savings in healthcare costs they can create.

Human services spending

$6.5 million: 2010 public health and human services budget

!11.2 million: 2016 public health and human services budget

Budget adoption

Dec. 8. Final adoption of the budget and the county’s property tax rate.

Dec. 18. Certification of property tax rates for all taxing entities.

To comment, go to eaglecounty.us, or call the Board of County Commissioners at 970-328-8605.

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EAGLE — The good news is that Eagle County government will have $2.8 million more to spend next year.

The bad news is that every dime and more will be consumed by increased healthcare costs — around $3 million.

The county’s public health and human services costs will run about a $1 million general fund deficit next year. That shortfall stems from 2007 when the economy tanked and the county’s public assistance costs spiked. Those costs have not significantly fallen in the recovery.

Still, it’s money they have because, generally, county officials say they have been careful with your tax money.

2016 budget presentation

The county presented its 2016 budget Tuesday afternoon, and while the county is projected to run a $1 million general fund deficit next year, it’s better than it sounds.

They’ve been stacking up money in reserves for years, and have a healthy $23 million in the bank, said John Lewis, the county’s finance director.

That won’t last forever, though. They could be down to the $13.1 million minimum reserves by 2019, according to county’s five-year budget projections.

“We are not planning to allow that to happen,” said Kathy Chandler-Henry, who chairs the board of county commissioners.

The county is taking action now to avert any crisis in 2019 and beyond, Chandler-Henry said.

That $13.1 million floor is based on a risk analysis assuming a worst-case scenario that includes things like the floods and wildfires hitting in the same year.

County Commissioner Jill Ryan said the county’s primary goal is to remain financially sound.

“Unlike the federal government we have to have a balanced budget. We cannot go into debt, which is good because that’s one way we’re responsible to taxpayers,” Ryan said.

Staffers get 20 PERCENT of health cost savings

The county’s healthcare costs shot up 50 percent over the last five years.

However, they’re taking a proactive approach to try to cut costs, beginning with providing county staffers cost information for comparable medical procedures in different parts of the state.

“Healthcare costs vary widely from area to area, and also from provider to provider,” said Brent McFall, county manager.

When the procedure is finished and paid for, the staffer gets 20 percent of any savings.

The program is designed to share incentives with the employees, McFall said.

One of the county’s goals is increase competition and help create a reduction in healthcare costs, said County Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney.

“This is a difficult problem and will require us all working together,” McQueeney said.

The county is also holding the line on hiring. Employee numbers fell from 524 people in 2009, to 474 in 2016.

Revenue ups and downs

Revenues are increasing slowly, Lewis said.

Property values are back up following a 30 percent crash when the economy tanked. That means the county’s property tax revenue will be up 12 percent in 2016.

Sales taxes are back to 2007 levels, up $400,000 to $8.8 million total.

Much of that increase, however, is offset by a $3 million hit to the county’s investment earnings since 2008.

Interest income is down 85 percent since 2008 when it was around $3 million a year. It’s almost nothing now. That’s because the county’s investments are tied to federal interest rates, which are almost zero.

The county refinanced the Maintenance Service Center and Justice Center expansions. That saved approximately $750,000, and frees up approximately $1.6 million in reserves for other county capital projects.

Line by line

No one gets to automatically increase their budgets 5 percent, or cut them the same way, McQueeney said.

“It’s done line item by line item,” McQueeney said.

Among the large line items:

• $250,000 for an unfunded but federally mandated voting system, including computer hardware, software and training.

• $644,000 to replace the artificial turf at Freedom Park in Edwards. That will include $210,000 for a new pad under it, which makes the turf last longer.

Community grant program cut

Among the most painful cut was funding to non-profits, from about $2.3 million this year to around $1.3 million next year.

Budget constraints mean the community grant program is going away. The program was originally designed to help local non-profits weather the recession, the commissioners said. In its place they will work with local organizations that can help the county meets its strategic goals, Chandler-Henry said.

The county’s public health and human services spending has grown from $6.5 million in 2010, to $11,2 million projected for 2016. Some of that is funded through grants.

The Vail Valley Partnership is projected to take a 40 percent hit, about $100,000, from $250,000 to $150,000.

Director Chris Romer said the Partnership’s return on investment warrants a bigger grant, especially when viewed through the numbers of businesses helped and recruited, and jobs created.

The Partnership has directly created 15 new jobs from companies they have helped recruit to the valley, said Mike Brumbaugh, Vail Valley Partnership board member.

That does not include dozens of jobs the Partnership has helped local businesses generate, Romer said.

“A strong economic development effort is paramount,” Romer said.

Along with budget cuts, the county will do a service inventory and analysis, to get a better feel for what county services are mandated and what are discretionary, Lewis said.

If a non-profit’s mission fits the county’s strategic plan, it’s more likely to be funded, the commissioners said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

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