by Rick Langenberg:
The Teller County commissioners and head officials received a big surprise during their final budget hearing: community leaders actually showing up to ask for cash. Due to “lean and mean times” for the last five years, county budget meetings have usually end within minutes with no one attending. In fact, a budget hearing of 10 minutes was considered impressive.
But last week, representatives from three organizations and entities made requests for financial help. And this combined with presentations made at an earlier meeting in July means that county officials have received bids for close to $50,000 for additional assistance. These pleas have come from such organizations as the Teller County Sheriff’s Office, the Teller Senior Coalition and Senior Center, Community of Caring, Teller Victim Advocates, and Teller-Park Conservation District.
None of the requests will break the county’s bank account. And according to Finance Director Laurie Litwin, these requests will be evaluated and will be part of the final budget, submitted to the commissioners on Dec. 11. Leading the request charge at the final budget hearing was Teller County Sheriff Mike Ensminger, with a bid for $8,800 for an additional program that could ultimately boost training efforts. In addition, the Teller Senior Center wanted $4,000 to help with seed money for a new proposed adult day care center to assist elderly assistance providers. Plus the Teller Victim Advocate group made a plea for $1,500 for gas expenses for its volunteers.
In an earlier meeting, the county heard presentations from the Community of Caring and Teller Senior Coalition for transportation and meals programs, totaling more than $25,000. This many requests for money are unusual for the Teller County government, which has adopted a reputation as mini-Scrooge when it comes to dispersing funds for community programs.
The slew of requests may be a trademark of an improving economy.
But based on the county’s preliminary 2015 budget and overall message, next year isn’t a time to get too excited about a bullish fiscal portrait. The county is reporting a better financial picture, but its $26.4 million in expenditures for next year is on par with 2014. “It is very similar to last year’s budget,” said Litwin. The county is still only operating at 80 percent of the personnel it once had, based on 2010 workforce levels. In fact, some previously unfilled positions have been taken out of the equation entirely.
The big political unknown is Amendment 68, the pro-racetrack gambling proposition that could adversely impact the gaming revenue the county receives. According to Litwin, the results of this vote will have long-term impacts on the county’s financial situation. If it passes, the amendment won’t affect Teller immediately, but it could lead to a big decrease in Cripple Creek gaming revenue in future years, which will result in less money for the county.
Other issues of concern financially deal with lower property values throughout the county, resulting in less property tax revenue. The most recent assessments indicated a 2.7 percent plunge in values. Also, Teller has experienced a big reduction in grant monies from the state and federal governments. For 2015, Teller will only receive $561,813 in grant monies, compared to nearly $2 million in 2013.
This could result in fewer major road improvement projects.