Headline: County adopts $70 million spending plan for 2003 | VailDaily.com

Headline: County adopts $70 million spending plan for 2003

$70M to spend in 2003

The Eagle County commissioners have approved a budget for 2003 that differs from other counties and the state, including no tax hikes and no cuts in services.

Commissioners Arn Menconi and Tom Stone on Tuesday approved a $70 million plan – down about $1 million from the 2002 budget. Commissioner Michael Gallagher didn’t attend the meeting because he was ill.

As a result of being conservative for the past four years, Eagle County’s finances are healthy compared to the state and other counties, said County Administrator Jack Ingstad.

“Our total reserves are $45 million, and we won’t be touching that to balance the budget,” Ingstad said. “Our budgeted revenues are forecast very conservatively. Traditionally, we see an excess of $1 million after the audit.”

In Summit County, officials had a tougher decision to make. County commissioners there adopted a dramatically scaled-back budget for 2003, reflecting losses in sales tax revenues and building permits. Without the cuts, the county was $1.7 million over its targeted $46 million budget.

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For Colorado, the $13.8 billion spending plan the Legislature sent Gov. Owens in May has been cut to $13.2 billion, the Denver Post reports.

“We reacted for this four budgets ago,” Ingstad said. “We’ve been reducing staff and some of our costs. We haven’t been growing like other counties.”

And while Eagle County has managed to fully fund employee benefits next year, Ingstad said, it also was able to pass this budget in spite of a downturn in sales tax and building permits this year.

Revenue from sales taxes – which account for 15 percent of the Eagle County’s revenues – is down 8 percent from 2001. Revenues from building fees for 2002 and 2003 is budgeted to decrease 15 percent from 2001 levels, said Eagle County Finance Director Michael Roeper.

“We had more money coming in because we projected very conservative revenues in our 2002 budget,” Ingstad said.

After several years of cuts, property tax rates next year, Roeper said.

“We’re just watching our costs much better,” Roeper said. “And we’re going to continue to watch.”

In March, commissioners will make a decision on whether the county will be able to respond to the request of some nonprofits. In recent months, the county has received requests for a total of $500,000 from about 30 local organizations, Roeper said.

“The largest requests are on hold,” he said, “until commissioners see revenues from December.”

To reduce expenses, Eagle County is cutting back on travel and training expenses, as well as not adding any new employees.

Summit County commissioners, by comparison, eliminated 11 positions – six of them already vacant – and asked all department heads to trim their budgets. Summit County also cut back on its nonprofit donations.

“From when Jack took over the reigns, there’s been a more prudent budget,” said Menconi.

Summit Daily News reporter Jane Reuter contributed to this story.Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.

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