County tightens to make budget

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Designing Routt County's 2004 budget required a tight balance between reduced revenues and increased costs, most notably the expense of the court-ordered justice center.

The county had to "make things work" in putting together the $41.3 million draft, said Routt County Finance Director Dan Strnad.

"I'm glad for where we're at," Strnad said. "It could be a lot worse considering everything that has come at us."

The county's budgeted spending is $5.1 million higher than it was in 2003, costs which mostly can be attributed to the construction of the justice center.

Revenues are projected to increase to $38.7 million, up $4.7 million from 2003. But most of that increase is because of the $7 million in certificates of participation the county plans to issue for the construction of the justice center.

The difference between planned spending and revenues will be balanced by dipping into the county's reserves, which will be about $25 million at the beginning of next year.

To keep that difference as small as possible, county commissioners advised department heads to keep their budget requests to 2002 actual spending or less, Strnad said.

For many departments, that means watching their budgets item by item.

Routt County Sheriff John Warner said he worked to keep his department's budget at those levels, but because of increases in certain dues and membership fees, it had to go up slightly.

"Things are going to be very tight," Warner said. "We're going to have to look at not adding any additional services, and just really watch line item by line item what we do next year and what we spend."

Mandate to build

The justice center is one of the county's top priorities, Strnad said. It must be built by Sept. 1, 2006, according to the court order the county received in December 2002.

After a bond issue to help fund the justice center failed in a countywide vote in 2002 and county officials received the court order, county commissioners eventually decided to fund about half the costs with money in reserves and about half with certificates of participation.

Certificates of participation are similar to bonds, but are appropriated for annually, which means the county technically could walk away from the project. Another difference is that the county does not need to go to the voters before issuing the certificates.

A cost estimation for the center is expected by Dec. 1, but the county is now predicting that the center will cost between $12 million and $14 million. About $1.1 million will go to designing and engineering costs.

The new justice center will have a square shape to create efficiencies. It will have three stories, one of which will be a garden level and basement area and is estimated to be about 50,000 square feet.

A range of revenues

Decreases in sales tax revenues and interest will hit the county, Strnad said. A struggling local, state and national economy contributed to a decrease of about $130,000 in sales taxes, while interest from income could decrease almost $500,000.

Decreases in interest income have been steady since 2000, when the county received $1.5 million from interest. Now, the interest received is less than one-third of that.

State revenues are likely to increase about $150,000, primarily because of a grant from the Department of Local Affairs to help fund the Phippsburg water-filtration system.

Federal revenues will decrease by more than half to $4.3 million. Those revenues mostly are spent on the Yampa Valley Regional Airport and will go down in part because an almost $4 million overlay of a runway, as well as other projects, were completed this year.

The largest increase in revenues comes from bond proceeds, which have not supplied any revenue this year. Next year, the county will receive $7 million in certificates of participation to fund about half of the justice center and about $1.8 million will go to the Meadowgreen Local Improvement District. That local improvement district was approved by voters to fund the construction of water, sewer and road improvements.

Property taxes likely will increase $485,000 to about $10.3 million, in part because of the 0.3 mill levy approved by voters for museums and historic preservation in Routt County and in part because of increases in real and commercial property taxes because of new construction and inflation.

Fees will increase by about $560,000 because of several factors, including an increase in building department fees and valuation rates and an increase in fees from Yampa Valley Regional Airport.

Maintaining service

Besides the justice center, most other spending will be used to maintain services, Strnad said. "We're not doing near as many improvements, but we are maintaining what we've got," he said.

No gravel roads are going to be paved, Strnad said. The county did not budget for resurfacing or chip and sealing gravel roads because it was focused on maintaining the existing road system.

The only major projects scheduled are ones that have significant funding from outside sources. Construction on the McGregor Bridge, which leads into the landfill near Milner, will be completed, using $800,000 in federal funds and $100,000 in county funds.

Reconstruction of the fourth stage of Routt County Road 14, a project that would have cost $1.4 million, was delayed.

The money spent on personnel should increase by $215,000 to $14.6 million for the year, more than a third of the county's total expenditures. That cost includes savings in employee benefits that came from switching health care providers, and also includes a 3.25 percent increase in average compensation to maintain employees.

The budget for capital is $12.3 million, a more than $3 million increase from 2003 that mostly is the result of the $7 million that will be used to start building the justice center.

The other big chunk of money for capital goes to improvements to Yampa Valley Regional Airport. The county will contribute $2.5 million to work at the airport. More than half of that comes from revenues from grants and other charges, and will be used toward improvements that are part of an almost $18 million terminal expansion.

The operations budget is close to $11 million, an increase of about $1 million from 2003. That change is mostly because of the water and sewer improvements in the Meadowgreen subdivision, which will be paid for by the bond issue that residents approved.

The money the county sets aside each year to pay for future replacement of equipment was decreased by about $200,000.

The county's debt service, which was almost nonexistent in 2003, will increase to about $700,000. About $560,000 of that will go toward paying the debt created by the $7 million in certificates of participation issued for the justice center. The remainder will go toward paying the debt on the Meadowgreen Local Improvement District.

Strnad cautioned that both of those payments could change. If the cost of the justice center turns out to be more or less than the $12 million to $14 million the county is planning, or if the bids for the local improvement district come back lower than expected, than those annual payments would be different, Strnad said.

-- To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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