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Officials optimistic about economy

by Veronica Whitney

A new pond in Edwards, funds for the Dowd Junction recreational trail and the design of a new road near the airport are among the projects that Eagle County may fund next year.

“We have sailed right through the economic storm,” said County Administrator Jack Ingstad, who has finished work on the preliminary budget for 2004. “We’re a county without debt. And sales tax collection this summer was booming for us.”

The county’s preliminary budget for 2004 is $76 million. The final budget for 2003 is $88 million, up from an initial $72 million.

“We have benefited from our Board of County Commissioners being fiscally conservative over the years,” Ingstad said. “While many local governments have had to make very deep, painful cuts with the economic downturn, we’ve managed to fully fund operations with available revenue.”

Ingstad said it remains Eagle County policy not to fund operations by dipping into emergency reserves, set at 25 percent of the budget.

“Certainly, we’re more optimistic than last year,” said Mike Roeper, the county’s director of finance. “But we’re still conservative and we have taken out a lot of things that don’t have to do with our core business.”

The new budget, Ingstad said, will also include several projects in the community.

“We’ll continue to improve the life of our citizens,” he said.

This year, Ingstad said, he has received more capital improvement requests than last year. The requests include $1 million for the Eagle County Sheriff Office’s airplane, $3.5 million for the Lionshead transportation center, $3 million for Vail’s Frontage roads and $3 million for the second phase of the Avon recreation center.

“We have requests for a total of $30 million,” Ingstad said. “And we can only spend $3 million.”

County Commissioners have already given preliminary approval for $300,000 for a trails fund, $600,000 for the pond at the Berry Creek in Edwards, and $275,000 for the design of Cooley Mesa Road.

“When it decides where to allocate capital improvement money, the county looks at continuing its core business and maintaining customer service base,” Ingstad said.

Although the county expects to get almost 3 percent less in property taxes next year – as a result of property assessments going down – sales tax revenue is up 5.18 percent for the year. In comparison, Ingstad said, sales tax revenue last year was down 7 percent.

“And we had a very healthy 10 percent for June and 11 percent for July,” he said. “We expect this trend to continue into 2004.

“We are financially healthy because we’re always looking for financial opportunities,” Ingstad said. “We’ve been really creative.”

There will be a public hearing on the budget on Nov. 18. On Dec. 9, the commissioners will vote on the budget. The preliminary budget is available for public review at the Eagle County Building in Eagle.

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at

vwhitney@vaildaily.com.

Eagle County economic facts

– The county has seen a rise in sales tax revenue this year – 2003 sales tax revenue is up 5.18 percent for the year

– County officials expect property tax revenue to remain flat in 2004.

– The county will begin collecting open space tax funds – about $3 million – in 2004.

– The county will begin receiving profits from Miller Ranch home sales in 2004. This revenue will be used to reimburse funds used for the Berry Creek purchase.

– The county has virtually no debt. The only remaining general obligation bond debt will be paid off in 2005. Last year, the county paid in full the remaining Justice Center debt.

2004 Budget facts

– Fiscal year 2004 general fund requests initially exceeded projected revenues by $3.6 million. So far, elected officials and departments have reduced this $3.6 million gap by $3.3 million.

– The District Attorney’s budget request for 2004 is down from the current year.

– The county has ended a temporary hiring freeze and departments are filling priority positions.

Source: Eagle County


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