Routt County commissioners discuss 2011 budget | SteamboatToday.com

Routt County commissioners discuss 2011 budget

Routt County Commissioners Diane Mitsch Bush and Doug Monger listen to Finance Director Dan Strnad during an overview of the 2011 budget Monday afternoon at the Commissioners Hearing Room.

The increasing cost of health care benefits for Routt County employees hit the county commissioners like a defensive end going unblocked to a quarterback's blind side Friday. By Monday, the commissioners had begun to adjust to the news of a 47 percent increase in premiums as they tackled a budget overview with Finance Director Dan Strnad.

Commissioner Chairwoman Nancy Stahoviak already has said the county would put its health care coverage out to bid after learning that the quote from the existing provider, UnitedHealthcare, increased the bill to cover the county's 270 employees from $2.6 million to $3.8 million in 2011.

"Do we pass that on to employees?" Sahoviak asked rhetorically.

Strnad said United's proposal effectively would raise the annual cost of providing health care for a single employee from $5,800 to $8,600 and for a family from $14,700 to $21,600.

"To pass that on to employees, that's huge," Strnad said. "To pass even half that on to employees is huge."

Strnad had budgeted for a 10 percent increase, and personnel costs were expected to increase by only 1 percent before the health insurance premium was cast in doubt. A 5 percent pay cut for employees from 2009 remains in the budget.

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He added that among the cited reasons for the bigger increase is the aging demographic of county employees and "catastrophic" claims exceeding $50,000 last year by six employees. Four of them involve long-term circumstances, he said.

As recently as Friday, Strnad thought he was bringing forward a proposed $28.8 million budget that was down 22 percent from 2010's $31.9 million budget.

Now, he's added health insurance premiums to road paving and the uncertainty of tourism-dependent sales tax revenues to the short list of major issues facing the commissioners.

After hearing that last ski season's airline traffic was off by 4,000 passengers and the number of arriving airline seats is down for the coming season, Strnad said he felt he had to reduce projected sales tax revenues by 8 percent to $4.62 million, a decline of $374,000 from 2010 budgeted figures. Updated projections for actual collections in 2010 stand at $4.25 million.

Commissioner Doug Monger was optimistic about the coming winter tourism season.

"I still think there's going to be people coming here," Monger said. "I think we might see a change in attitude when we get this election done."

Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush took a more conservative approach.

"I don't want to count on it," she said. "I'd rather be pleasantly surprised if we have a good season."

Even with Strnad's conservative approach to budgeting for sales tax revenues, the shortfall will be more than offset by an increase of $487,000 in property tax revenues that is allowable under the Taxpayers Bill of Rights.

Most of that increase is attributable to new construction, Strnad said, specifically some large condominium projects such as One Steamboat Place.

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