Routt County to begin formal budget talks today

Variables include health care costs, sales tax revenues

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What: Public hearings addressing Routt County’s 2011 budget proposals

When: 3:30 to 5 p.m. today, 2 to 5 p.m. Tuesday, 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. and 2 to 4 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Commissioners Hearing Room, on the third floor of the Routt County Courthouse in downtown Steamboat Springs

Contact: Call county offices at 970-879-0108, or visit http://www.co.routt.co.us for more information.

— Routt County commissioners will take their first formal look at 2011 budget numbers today amid variables including employee health care costs and fluctuating sales tax projections.

Commissioners have been having informal budget talks with county department directors and finance officials for weeks to get early looks at revenue and expense numbers and how to trim county finances for the third consecutive year. That preliminary work turns a corner today, with the first presentation of the full 2011 budget picture from county Finance Director Dan Strnad. The commissioners and Strnad have several budget hearings scheduled this week in the Routt County Courthouse in downtown Steamboat Springs. Today’s is at 3:30 p.m.

The three commissioners said Sunday that health care costs for county staff — equivalent to about 270 full-time employees — remain unknown for next year.

“We don’t know how health insurance costs are going to affect our budget because we’re going to put our health insurance out for bids this year,” Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said.

Commissioner Doug Monger said health insurance costs and benefits provided to employees are “probably the biggest wild card” for the county’s 2011 budget process. He said the county’s current provider, UnitedHealthcare, accounts for usage in 2010 when creating a rate structure for 2011. Monger said for an unknown reason, county staff members have used their health care benefits at an unusually high rate this year.

“Maybe this was a good year to get things taken care of,” Monger quipped. “Our usage of the insurance seemed to be quite high, and then based on our usage, we could be looking for pretty escalated rates for our insurance increase.”

He said the county plans to solicit proposals from other health care providers while continuing negotiations with UnitedHealthcare, in coming weeks.

“We will have to know which provider we’re going to move forward with before the first of the year,” Monger said.

Another uncertainty for the county is 2011 sales tax revenues, projections of which have been fluid.

Routt County Manager Tom Sullivan said this year, sales tax revenues did not exceed county projections until mid-summer.

“July was our first month where we actually had an increase above last year and above what we had budgeted this year for that month,” he said.

Strnad told com­­missioners last month that he decreased his sales tax revenue projections another 5 percent, from the 26 percent decrease he already had forecast in a draft 2011 budget.

“The numbers have been jumping around,” Commis­sioner Diane Mitsch Bush said.

She said sales tax usually accounts for about 20 percent of the county’s annual general fund revenue. Property tax accounts for 30 to 35 percent, she said. Federal dollars and county fees each account for 20 to 25 percent.

Property tax revenues actually could increase next year, Sullivan said, because of new construction, particularly a few large developments in Steam­boat Springs.

At the beginning of this year, the county’s 2010 budget included about $47 million in revenues and about $48 million in expenditures.

Work on 2011 figures continued through Friday. Mitsch Bush said Sunday evening that she had not yet seen the figures that will be presented tonight.

Sullivan said in July that the county’s $1.2 million in budget cuts this year likely will be followed by cuts of $800,000 to $1 million in 2011.

“We have continually emphasized to all of our department managers that our revenues are not increasing, that we are not going to be looking at approving any new personnel,” Stahoviak said.

Jack Weinstein contributed to this story.

— To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4233 or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

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