Routt County tackles repairs, paving on busy road to Stagecoach State Park in 2014 budget | SteamboatToday.com

Routt County tackles repairs, paving on busy road to Stagecoach State Park in 2014 budget

If you go

What: Routt County budget hearing

When: 5 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Commissioners Hearing Room, Routt County Courthouse, 522 Lincoln Ave.

— The Routt County Board of Commissioners are optimistic enough about the county's fiscal position this year to plan a two-year, $1.5 million paving and repair project on a decaying stretch of Routt County Road 14 used heavily by commuters between Stagecoach and Steamboat Springs.

The county's proposed 2014 budget includes the first $750,000 of the project, which will be used to repair failed stretches of C.R. 14 and fresh asphalt on the portions of the road between Colorado Highway 131 and the top of Yellowjacket Pass.

"We're talking about asphalt and getting rid of areas where there are structural defects in that road, which was never engineered. It used to be a dirt road," county Finance Director Dan Strnad said. "The big picture is, we're going to try to do something to make that road better, which is a big deal."

The Board of Commissioners will discuss next year's proposed $71.1 million budget during a public meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday at the Routt County Courthouse. Revenue is projected to be $60.9 million, and the county expects to reduce its reserves by almost $10 million.

At first glance, this year's proposed budget has increased dramatically from the 2013 budget that called for $48.8 million in expenditures. But the numbers are sure to be cut significantly by the time the commissioners are prepared to adopt the budget Dec. 10. That's because both revenue and expenses are being reduced by the announcement this month that a federally funded $15.1 million runway paving project at Yampa Valley Regional Airport has been pushed back to 2015, Strnad said.

Expenses will be revised downward to $58.5 million, and revenue will be scaled back to $49.4 million when the delayed runway project is taken into account.

The county won't be paying for the runway project when it's built, but the grants and their disbursal have to be reflected in the county budget, Strnad added.

The other big initiative in the 2014 budget is restoring employee pay increases, including a 2 percent cost of living increase for all employees and a return to the county's stepped salary increases, which will result in raises for some. The budget impact of the compensation package is $888,000, Strnad said.

The raises are being funded by a projected increase in sales taxes and the county's ability to drop the premiums it charges itself in its partially self-insured health plan.

Strnad said the county has seen several good years on the claims side of its health insurance plan and took advantage to build reserves in the fund. Now, the commissioners feel they can find room in the budget by dialing back contributions to health insurance reserves.

Other news on the county's revenue side for 2014 is that the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights will allow for an increase in base property tax revenue of $456,000, about 3.4 percent, Strnad said. The county also is projecting a healthy increase in revenue from its 1 percent sales tax, which is expected be up by 6 percent, or $311,000, based on 2013 collections.

The increase in the county's property tax revenue next year does not signal a significant increase in property taxes, Strnad said. Overall, residential property owners could see a tax increase of about 0.8 percent, Strnad said. That increase will be offset by a drop in tax collections for three voter-approved mill levies that raise funds for people with developmental disabilities, history museums in the county and the purchase of development rights. Revenue from the three mill levies will be down about $363,000 collectively because they are funded by flat mill levies that rise and fall with assessed valuations.

The county's valuation for taxes has declined 31 percent since 2010, but county government has been buffered by the fact it spent less than it was allowed under TABOR in previous years and used those "credits" to raise mill levies modestly during the recession.

Now, the county is optimistic that property valuations could be reversing course in a positive direction.

County Assessor Gary Peterson has been tracking changing property values, Strnad said, and there's optimism that when new valuations are set in 2015, they will have gone up.

"We're seeing an upward trend of real estate values out there, and that's a good thing," Strnad concluded.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1