County fiscal outlook bleak | SteamboatToday.com

County fiscal outlook bleak

Commissioners receive somber briefing from finance staff

Brandon Gee

An exasperated mood permeated the Routt County Board of Commissioners’ hearing room Monday afternoon, when county Finance Director Dan Strnad kicked off the county’s 2009 budget preparations with a forecast that revenues and debt proceeds will decrease $10 million, or 16 percent, in 2009.

“Pain, pain, pain,” Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush said to herself in the moments before Strnad’s presentation, as a graph on a projection screen forecast the county’s combined reserves, excluding enterprise funds, tanking over the next 20 years.

Property tax, the county’s primary source of revenue, is projected to increase 6 percent, or $865,000, to $15.7 million in 2009. Those gains, however, are vastly outmatched by decreases in other revenue streams.

Coal haul permit fees are expected to decrease $6 million because of the continued reconstruction of Routt County Road 27, and Yampa Valley Regional Airport federal revenues will decrease $1 million because of the loss of a Homeland Security grant. Sales and use tax collections are projected to decrease 12 percent, or $825,000, to $6.3 million. And even that might be too rosy a forecast. A report prepared for the commissioners notes building-use tax could decrease even more than the 25 percent currently projected because of the downturn in the national economy.

Also, the sales tax estimate doesn’t anticipate any reduction in ski season tourists, which one Intrawest official suggested last week is a very real possibility.

Although he wasn’t specific about Steamboat, Andy Wirth told Steamboat Pilot & Today that a reported 17.7 percent decrease in bookings for Vail Resorts owned and managed hotels “is indicative of what all of Colorado is seeing as far as booking trends.”

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“We’re getting deep enough into the booking season that we are, in fact, seeing year-over-year, year-to-date negative trends,” said Wirth, chief marketing officer for Intrawest, Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.’s parent company.

Strnad said each 10 percent reduction in skier days represents about $460,000 in lost revenue to the county.

In the midst of the falling revenues, the commissioners earlier in the day instructed their legal staff to investigate one possible source of new revenue.

In a controversial move, the city of Steamboat Springs will begin reconciling building-use tax estimates per a longstanding, but never enforced, provision of the Steamboat Springs Municipal Code. They have begun requiring reconciliations on all open building permits issued since 2005, which could result in an estimated $4.6 million in uncollected revenue for the city.

The county is investigating whether it can use reconciled valuations from the city to audit their own building-use tax collections before signing off on a certificate of occupancy.

Routt County budget discussions continue today with a hearing scheduled from 1:30 to 5 p.m. Other meetings this week are scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Wednesday and 9:30 a.m. Thursday.

Numbers

Routt County 2008 sales tax collections, budgeted vs. projected

2008 budgeted $5,584,430

2009 projected $5,026,000

Change $558,430 (-10%)