County budget facing major expenses

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A planned $15.8 million justice center and a $17.7 million expansion at the Yampa Valley Regional Airport will make Routt County's 2005 budget particularly tight.

Debt service payments for the two projects are estimated at almost $1.2 million a year.

"We've never done that in one year," Routt County Finance Director Dan Strnad said about starting to fund two large-scale capital projects. "It's big."

Another increased expense is the county commissioners' goal of fully funding a market increase for employee salaries and taking their health care and benefits plans back out to bid, which could cost $900,000.

With these added expenses, county commissioners will have to look carefully at what they can do to continue providing services such as road improvements and public safety.

"We only have so much money and have to provide basic services," Strnad said. "If we can't provide those ... what are we really accomplishing out there?"

Strnad is holding initial work sessions with county commissioners today and Thursday to walk them through a first look at the 2005 budget.

On the revenues side, the picture is pretty good, Strnad said. A 4.7 percent increase in property taxes is expected and would add about $400,000 to what the county collected last year. A 7 percent increase in sales tax is expected, for an additional $250,000.

There is a $235,000 loss in federal mineral lease funds, but that could be made up through other federal payments. Also, highway user tax funds likely will provide $210,000 less than what was expected, Strnad said.

On the spending side, one of the county's largest expenses is to build a new justice center, which is estimated to cost $15.8 million. Construction has not begun because the county is waiting for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit to fill in wetlands at the site of the new center.

For the justice center, about $8.8 million in debt will be issued, which results in a debt service payment of about $700,000. About $560,000 for the first yearly payment was set aside in 2004.

The other expense is funding the second phase of an expansion at Yampa Valley Regional Airport. Although the project will be funded mostly by federal grants, state grants and passenger facility funds, the county plans to issue $6 million of debt to pay for the project before all of the grant monies are available.

Some county officials have said that the airport project could be delayed if the budget is especially tight.

The tricky part is adding those expenses while balancing the county's other needs, Strnad said.

Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said that department leaders have been instructed to keep their 2005 budgets at or below their 2004 budgets, so he did not expect to see a lot of "fluff" in the budget, even though county commissioners will have to find ways to make some cuts.

The first budget work sessions are scheduled to be from 9 a.m. to noon in Conference Room 2 at Yampa Valley Medical Center; and from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. in Conference Room 3 today; and from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Thursday at the Doak Walker Care Center conference room. The meetings are at the hospital so Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak, who is recovering from recent knee surgeries, can participate.

-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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