Commissioners Offer Employee Pay Raises and Resident Tax Relief
Now that the end of the year is right around the corner, local governments across Teller County have finalized their 2024 budgets.
But these fiscal portraits feature a much different picture than past years due to big changes in expenditures and in projected property taxes.
With the passage of Senate Bill 23-108 last spring, which was drafted and supported by the Teller County commissioners, local municipalities and government entities have the right to take measures to temporarily offset the huge increase in property taxes, as a way to provide relief to residents. Last summer, it was announced that residents across the southern Colorado region would get hit with drastic hikes in their property taxes due to record high assessments.
As a result, many municipalities and local taxing districts have decided to lower the mill levies for a year and provide other relief measures to help offset these possible explosive tax bills, actions permitted under the new state legislation, Woodland Park and Teller County have both offered significant mill levy reductions in their plans for 2024.
At their final meeting of the year, the Teller County commissioners followed suit and announced a temporary mill levy reduction rate they plan to implement for 2024, which would offer residents a total tax break of $2.2 million.
A number of other governments in the Pikes Peak region are taking similar moves, such as El Paso County, which offered residents a combined $20.5 million tax savings.
Good Fiscal Shape
According to the Teller budget summary, the county is currently in a stable financial position due to “prudent spending/planning in the past.” Sales tax revenues in 2023 are projected to be higher than in 2023, but gaming taxes are expected to decrease compared to the previous year.
But even though the 2024 budget accounts for a decrease in property taxes, the budget is still higher than it has been in the past. During the last regular board meeting in 2023, the commissioners agreed that the nearly $38 million slated for expenditures next year is significantly higher than previous years.
“We have determined that a salary survey was required to accomplish the goal for us to be more marketable for employees,” Commissioner Bob Campbell said. “That required us to make quite a bit of adjustments this year.”
Campbell said that the budget includes an increase of around $2 million for salaries. He also said that the salary survey showed that the county could improve its employee benefit programs.
“Last year we made an increase to the contribution to our retirement program from 4 percent to 7 percent,” Campbell explained. “This year we increased it again to 8 percent that the county will provide to employee retirement.”
He said that the county has also increased the county’s medical benefit program. They recently acquired a new health insurance company to provide better coverage to employees.
Campbell also cautioned that the increase in expenditures in 2024 has a lot to do with the increase of costs the county has experienced across the board. He said that the county is seeing an increase in the costs to purchase vehicles and sometimes it takes as long as nine months to a year to acquire the needed vehicles.
The county has experienced an increase in utilities as well as an increase in the costs of raw materials such as gravel, grater blades, and supplies for law enforcement
County Commissioner Dan Williams stressed that the board has not decided to grow the size of the government. Instead, he attributes its record-breaking budget to the hike in the costs of doing business. And with these increases, he stated that there are now more employees out grading roads, and that the county will be able to increase the number of snowplows out on the roads.
He also mentioned that the cost of law enforcement has increased all across the country. As a result, he said that some of the budget increases are aimed at keeping law enforcement officers safe. He also cited cyber security threats as an important area of concern.
County Commission Chairman Erik Stone stated that improving Teller’s law enforcement capabilities became a major focus during the 2024 budget talks. “Some of the ways that we are doing that is we have authorized an entirely new command center for the jail,” Stone stated. “The command center has cameras everywhere and it controls the doors and the one we have is outdated and it is no longer supported. It is also extremely expensive. Currently it is being held together by baleen wire and duct tape.”
He said that new police officers will all receive new body armor. In addition, he said that since perpetrators from Russia recently tried to launch a cyber-attack, the commissioners put more money into the prevention of similar attacks that may occur in the future.
The budget also reflects the amount of money spent on fire mitigation efforts within the county. The county is looking at expanding the hours of operation for a slash site in Divide and increasing contracts for fire mitigation on county properties.
A Full-staff Sheriff’s Department
“From all of this, we have made significant changes and upgrades to our salary structures,” Stone said. “And actually, we entirely reorganized our HR department so that we are able to adequately compensate our employees in a way that makes people want to work for Teller County. We had to understand that we compete with Colorado Springs, we compete with Fountain and El Paso County. That makes it hard and in order to compete we have to spend more money to do that.”
Stone said that the sheriff’s office is now able to obtain 100 percent staffing. This is an agency goal that hasn’t occurred in nearly a decade. The sheriff’s department and other departments also now get the chance to upgrade when it comes to staffing.