Teller County Avoids Big Cuts with Final 2011 Budget

    Back to the basics approach approved by Rick Langenberg

    The Teller County commissioners can put their Ebenezer Scrooge disguises away, at least for several more months.

    Last week, the commissioners approved a $25.4 million budget for 2011 that they describe as extremely lean, but not requiring them to sharpen their fiscal axes in order to make sweeping cuts.

    Due to the failure of three statewide ballot measures last November, calling for the slashing of billions in taxes and fees, county officials weren’t forced to make big reductions in services and employees for next year. And compared to other nearby counties. Teller government leaders won’t have to do any furloughs, shut down certain buildings and eliminate departments.

    “We have done very well,” said Commission Chairman Bob Campbell, in describing Teller’s ability to weather the economic storm relatively unscathed.

    Campbell heavily complimented the community and county’s conservative direction as its real economic savior. He explained that other counties that wagered on growth projections and are now paying the price.

    “We don’t bet on the take,” said Campbell, who wasn’t afraid to convey his fiscal opinions during his next to final meeting as a Teller commissioner. According to Campbell, the county has opted to freeze departmental spending limits to those of 2005 levels.

    Still, he cautioned that the county has some big financial challenges to confront. “We don’t have a lot of money to spare,” said the commission chairman. “There is no cushion.”

    According to Campbell, the county has proposed a status quo budget that is about $100,000 smaller in scope than 2010. But compared to 2009, it represents a 4.5 percent decline. The reduced level of spending is a byproduct of smaller grants and less tax revenue. By comparison, the county raked in $3.3 million in grants in 2009, compared to a little more than $400,000 for next year.

    Plus, the county took the approach of not filling many vacated positions. According to Commissioner Jim Ignatius, the county didn’t replace 15 vacated positions that occurred in the last year and a half through resignations and terminations. “That is what saved us,” said Ignatius during a budget meeting last fall.

    At last week’s final hearing, Campbell said the basic focus of the 2011 budget is to “take care of our services and take care of our employees.”

    The board chairman believes the final budget achieves these objectives, but doesn’t leave much room for additional spending. “It’s pretty tight. In some regards, that’s okay,” explained Campbell.

    The commissioners’ financial direction got the support of another new elected leader. Newly-elected clerk and recorder Judith “JJ” Jamison complimented the work of the commissioners and other officials in controlling costs during last week’s hearing.

    “They have been good stewards (of the county’s money). More and people are recognizing that,” said Jamison.

    Still, the county is not out of the woods with its 2011 fiscal blueprint. The county’s nuts and bolts general fund only calls for a reserve surplus of $1.4 million, about $1 million less than 2010. And once again, the county’s jailhouse in Divide continues to plunge further into the red with the 100-bed-plus facility becoming more of a financial albatross for the Teller government. The county’s jail enterprise fund is projecting a $3.6 million accumulated deficit by the end of the year.

    During last week’s meeting, Campbell stated that the commissioners want to have more talks with Teller County Sheriff Mike Ensminger to discuss the jail’s financial plight. For several years, the county has struggled financially with the jail due to the difficulty of filling up the facility with prisoners from outside the area and from previous infrastructure costs. This situation was compounded by the cancelling of a previous lucrative contract the county had with the Colorado Department of Corrections.

    As for other budget challenges, the county has been forced to put on hold its effort to move more offices into a proposed government center in Divide. About a year ago, the county opened its new public works facility in Divide. This facility, which houses the transportation, fleet and maintenance departments, was to serve as the kick-off for a major move to consolidate more services in Divide.

    According to the county’s budget summary, the Teller government will renew this focus once the economy improves.

    Also, residents may not see as many high-dollar paving projects next year due to a smaller amount of state grants.

    Teller County residents interested in viewing the budget are advised to visit the county’s main government website or call the finance department at 686-7920.