Routt County approves 2012 budget

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By the numbers

Routt County’s revenue

Property taxes: 38 percent

Fees: 20 percent

1 percent sales tax: 11 percent

State funding: 10 percent

Federal grants/programs: 19 percent

Other: 2 percent

— Individual property taxpayers shouldn’t feel much pain next month when their bills arrive in the mail, at least in terms of the Routt County portion of their overall tax burden.

The Routt County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to approve a 2012 budget of $46.3 million that will increase the county property tax levy by 0.5 percent, or $81,503.

“To me, the increase in taxes is pretty minimal,” Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said.

The budget has increased $1.6 million since a public hearing on the draft budget was held in November. County Finance Director Dan Strnad said the change resulted from carrying over nearly $700,000 for road and bridge projects from 2011, including $257,000 toward replacement of the Chicken Creek Bridge on Routt County Road 82. The county also is carrying over $287,000 to 2012 for the E911 phone system as well as $300,000 earmarked for replacement of restrooms and showers at the Routt County Fairgrounds in Hayden.

The modest increase in the overall tax levy comes in spite of the fact the county’s base property tax levy — which support its general fund and services like the Road and Bridge Department, the Department of Human Services and emergency communications — will increase by $496,693, which is allowable under the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. That’s because the increase to base county taxes was more than offset in the total levy by the decline in revenues experienced by three previously voter-approved mill levies to support the Purchase of Development Rights program, Horizons Specialized Services and local museums.

Those three funds took a combined hit of $843,906 because they are tied to specific mill levies that were spelled out in the ballot language approved by voters. The net effect was to hold down the increase in the size of the total levy.

The county’s base tax can float under TABOR with adjustments for inflation and new construction. And Routt County also has been able to cushion the blow of the county’s declining property valuation because it banked some mills of tax in the past by spending less than its limit during better economic times.

The county’s mill levy increased 3.27 mills to 14.955 mills. Of the increase, 2.411 mills were attributable to the credits that previously were set aside.

“It’s critical, especially with the overall animosity toward government right now, that people understand those (mills) were set aside at a time when property values were going up,” Commissioner Doug Monger said. “This is the result of that.”

Strnad pointed out that for tax purposes, the county’s assessed valuation will remain unchanged for the 2013 budget. It won’t be until the 2014 and 2015 budgets when county officials foresee the possibility of using up the remaining 4.018 mills of levy credits under TABOR.

County Manager Tom Sullivan said the county was able to maintain service levels for its constituents in the 2012 budget thanks in part to better-than-expected sales tax revenue throughout 2011.

Strnad confirmed that the county found a lot more room in its budget this year thanks to an unexpected 7 percent increase in revenue on its 1 percent of sales tax. The county had budgeted for a 5 percent decrease in sales tax revenue. The county collects general sales tax as well as a 1 percent building-use tax and 1 percent auto-use tax.

“Sales tax is 11 percent of the overall budget. It’s one of the two major sources of revenues that go to fund operations,” Strnad said.

This year’s county budget anticipates expending $300,000 in reserves from a fund pegged for future equipment purchases and road and bridge projects. That’s far less than the $4.1 million in reserves the county spent last year when it had to absorb an unexpected 33 percent increase in health insurance premiums as well as pay for six new heavy road graders.

The health insurance costs are in much firmer control this year under the county’s partial self-insured plan, Strnad said. Claims for 2011 have been substantially lower than in 2010, he said.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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