County expects tight budget

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Routt County is bracing itself for another tight budget year, and county commissioners already have told departments to keep budgets at or under what was spent in 2003.

"The budgets will stay very stable, and there will be a slim to none (chance for) budget increases," Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said.

The county has started a series of work sessions to discuss specific department budgets, which will continue through September.

Routt County Finance Director Dan Strnad said he expects the county's two largest sources of revenues -- property and sales taxes -- to increase about 4 percent.

However, several other revenue sources will come up short, such as federal mineral lease money and highway user tax fees. Federal mineral lease funds were expected to bring in $325,000 in 2004, but have only contributed about $10,000, Strnad said. And the county is behind on highway user tax funds by about $225,000, he said.

Most likely, revenues will come out even, with neither an increase nor decrease overall, he said.

That means bad news when some costs, such as that of building and roadwork, have gone up quickly, and the county has new costs, such as debt service on building a new justice center, Strnad said.

The county is even looking to seek bids on health insurance again, as costs for this year are expected to be high.

"Something has got to give," Strnad said.

The choice of how to prioritize the various needs is up to the county commissioners, Strnad said.

The county's top two priorities still are to build a new justice center and to continue funding employees at a rate that reflects cost of living increases and market salaries, Monger said.

"I felt we were pretty tight in our expenditures in 2003," Monger said. "What it means is we will not be expanding services (this year)."

The revenues are not available to do more "progressive" things that perhaps the county would like to do, he said.

"It isn't one of those times when you find projects out there on your wish list and start working on them," he said.

-- To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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