Vail Valley residents wait for final word on state cuts
Vail CO Colorado
VAIL VALLEY, Colorado ” Officials in Colorado’s Vail Valley are watching closely as state lawmakers scramble to come up with more than $600 million in budget cuts this year.
Colorado’s joint budget committee is still mulling over the cuts recommended by Gov. Bill Ritter and state departments to figure out which ones would have the least impact on programs and services. The committee will make its own recommendations in the next week or two, before Colorado legislators make the final decision in about a month.
The economic downturn has caused adjustments across the board at all levels of government ” the county commissioners set aside a $3.2 million contingency fund that could cover unforeseen decreases in revenue, and the town of Avon has implemented a hiring freeze and has to delay the construction of its Main Street project as long as one year because of lower revenues.
Suzanne Vitale, executive director of the county’s Health and Human Services Department, said she’s following the budget-cutting process carefully ” the state Human Services Department proposed reductions in child welfare, developmental-disabilities services, mental health, senior services, self-sufficiency and youth corrections, all of which could affect her department and the community, she said.
“With the contingency fund and the commissioners’ support, we should be OK,” she said. “But (cuts) are still unknown for next year’s budget ” that’s certainly disconcerting.”
While school districts are generally protected from budget cuts because of Colorado’s Amendment 23, which requires K-12 funding to increase by at least inflation plus 1 percent each year, there are some budget cuts that could affect school districts, said Al White,Eagle County’s state Senate representative.
The state pays school districts on a per student basis, but other factors, such as cost of living and funding for at-risk students, mean some districts get more funding. Eagle County is familiar with both factors, and both face cuts, White said.
Phil Onofrio, the Eagle County School District’s chief financial officer, said he’s not too worried because schools are better protected than most in tough economic times. The district is dealing with the tough economy by budgeting for next year assuming there will be no growth, even though it typically grows 3 percent to 4 percent each year, Onofrio said.
State Sen. Dan Gibbs, who represents Eagle County, as well as White and Rep. Christine Scanlan, have their eyes set on cuts in the state’s tourism budget. The representatives don’t want to see the $20 million budget cut because the return on investment is so high, Gibbs said.
“Tourism is really the lifeblood of our economies in the high country,” he said. “With tourism funding, you get a lot of bang out of your buck.”
Every dollar spent in tourism funding brings a lot more back in, he said. The proposed tourism cuts are $10 million, or half of the current budget, but White said he thinks he has support from others in the Joint Budget Committee to hold the cut to $5 million. Gibbs said he feels comfortable with the support from other legislators to keep tourism cuts to a minimum.
“I think it’s safe to say the Western Slope is united in trying to keep more money in for state tourism,” he said.
Gibbs is trying to pass bills through the Legislature this year that would provide money for forest health ” mainly to address problems from the bark-beetle epidemic in recent years. He still hopes his bill will get through, but there will definitely be a difference in how much money the legislators will be able to provide.
“This year is going to be a real challenge,” Gibbs said. “We have to balance the budget. You can’t spend what you don’t have.”
Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org