Tough Budget Realities Looming In Teller County

by Rick Langenberg:

 

Some services impacted:

Financial blues have hit home for several local governments in the form of “lean and mean” budgets for next year, as a result of the Waldo Canyon fire and continuing tough times. And some experts say this could just be the beginning in the wielding of a sharpening fiscal axe with a projected decrease in property tax revenues in forthcoming years due to lower values. But at the same time, local workers won’t have to worry about any pending layoffs and residents shouldn’t experience any office hour closures or significant reductions in services, a trend that has occurred in certain other counties.

However, some of the county’s big capital spending ventures will be delayed indefinitely. Last week, the Teller County commissioners received the proposed 2013 budget that represents another tight outlook for spending with the government functioning at 80 percent of the personnel it had in 2010, according to proposed projections. In essence, Teller, which has faced its share of financial storms, has stayed in the black by not filling vacated positions. This trend is expected to continue in 2013, with at least nine key positions not being occupied. But on the downside, this means that delays may occur in the delivery of key services, such as building inspections and plan reviews.

According to the county’s proposed fiscal blueprint, the Teller government will spend $25.8 million in 2013, which represents a mirror image of the current year. “It is very similar to the budget we had for 2012,” said Teller County Finance Director Laurie Litwin. She stated that the budget mindset is still quite conservative. “Our revenues have been pretty flat,” added Litwin. However, the fact that Teller can escape the budget axe without eliminating any positions represents a slight victory. Several months ago, Teller got hit with a huge financial curveball, when the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office delivered a scathing report regarding the handling of the primary election and recommended that county officials hire consultants to oversee the Nov. 6 presidential election. The commissioners and clerk and recorder’s office agreed with this action, but they learned that the changes would cost Teller more than $120,000 in extra monies that were never budgeted for. Initially, officials speculated that some type of county program or department could get slashed significantly to make up the difference.

The county, with its 2013 budget, plans to pay these extra costs by using late fees and surcharge penalties, assessed by the clerk and recorder’s office. The county wants to use certain operational monies of the clerk and recorder’s office to offset these unforeseen expenses over an extended period. In the past, these fees have been used to finance the purchase of new election equipment and other related costs for manning elections permitted under state rules.

According to Litwin, this repayment plan will work as long as Teller County doesn’t get hit with any additional election costs, similar to what it experienced in 2012. Budget winners and losers Overall, the big victim of the 2013 budget is the county’s ambitious pursuit to develop a government service center in Divide. With the county’s current financial dilemma, Teller officials have decided to delay long-term plans to relocate from their offices in Woodland, which the government rents from the state land board. This was done years ago, as part of a way to finance the purchase of the Catamount Ranch open space area. Teller officials have outlined plans for a mega center in Divide, but little progress has occurred in making this dream a reality. “County management believes that the maintenance of jobs and services are the priorities that we should target during recessionary times,” stated officials in their budget summary. “When the economy improves, our plan remains to come back to the long-term capital goals (focusing on replacing rental space with county-owned facilities).” However, by bypassing this pursuit, the county will continue to rent government facilities, a trend that some elected leaders see as not very cost-efficient.

The big winner of the 2013 budget is the transportation agency, which will reap the benefits of nearly $1 million next year for road projects. This will be added to the $3.3 million in regular costs for road maintenance and the agency’s personnel expenses. It’s still unsure which road projects will move forward. But for 2012, the brunt of road work centered on nuts and bolts maintenance, with few funds going towards paving. However, the county wants to make sure it saves an adequate amount of money for pending financial disasters that may occur next year. As part of the county’s budget, extra monies are being reserved in anticipation of lower tax revenues for 2014 and 2015. That’s when the decline of county property values due to the recession will hit the government in the pocketbook. Also, the county must invest more money into emergency fire control efforts, in anticipation of fewer grant dollars. A budget meeting has been scheduled for Oct. 25 at 7 p.m. in the Centennial Building in Cripple Creek. This will mark the last time local residents, government employees and nonprofit group members can voice their opinions regarding how their tax money is allocated. The budget will be adopted on Dec. 6 by the county commissioners.