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Balancing 2013 County Budget will Rely on Reserves

Fremont County will face another difficult budget year ahead for 2013.    Fremont County Manager George Sugars and the Board of Commissioners laid out the details of another tight budget at the November 13th budget hearing.   Sugars explained that while some statewide estimates project Colorado sales tax growth at four percent for 2013 the Board of Commissioners decided to be conservative and estimate a sales tax revenue increase of just one percent next year.   Sugars noted that even with sales tax revenue increases in 2012, Fremont County is just now getting back to 2006 and 2007 levels of annual sales tax revenues near $5 million.   Sugars said the county’s assessed valuation is projected to increase 1.2 percent in 2013 which will net only a few extra dollars in property tax.    He said that is offset by the fact that County Assessor Stacey Seifert is predicting that in the 2013 reassessment year Fremont County will likely see yet another drop in property values meaning lower property tax collections ahead in 2014 and 2015.

District 3 Commissioner Ed Norden said the Commissioners were hoping there might be enough revenue growth to give county employees a small pay raise in 2013 but he said it won’t happen.    Norden said the county will have to draw down its cash reserves to make the budget balance meaning it will be the fourth straight year that county employees will go without a pay increase.    In 2011 Fremont County did pick up the full cost of a nine percent increase in health insurance premiums for employees.   Norden said throughout these difficult economic times the Commissioners have tried to maintain a minimum balance of $1 million in General Fund reserves.   But to balance the 2013 budget the county will draw down its’ General Fund reserves by $310,000 with the 2013 ending balance now estimated at $769,000.

The county’s Department of Transportation fund will also draw upon its’ reserves in 2013 by an estimated $83,000.    It means that the amount of money spent on chip seal surfacing, asphalt paving, and chemical dust suppressant on county roads will again be curtailed in 2013.   Commissioner Mike Stiehl said that’s due in large part to decreasing gasoline tax revenues from the Colorado Highway User’s Tax Fund which is the biggest portion of road maintenance funding.    Stiehl reminded residents that if you own a home valued at $200,000 only about $14 of the annual property tax you pay goes to fund county road maintenance.

Commissioner Norden sounded an alarm for citizens to be aware that it’s become more and more costly to operate the county jail.  Norden said the Commissioners are always reminded by taxpayers that the county simply has to tighten its belt the way local families have to do in this economy.   But Norden said when Fremont County inmate numbers are on the rise and medical costs continue to rise, there is no way to trim spending when the state and federal governments mandate what jail services will be provided.   The Sheriff has also seen revenues decline from the leasing of fewer state parole beds in the county jail.   Norden said when jail costs go up it means shifting more and more resources away from other areas of county government.   He said when citizens start to complain about road maintenance or how long it takes a deputy to respond to a 9-1-1 call, that’s when they need to realize what other services are being cut and if public safety may even be at risk in order to balance the budget.

A copy of the proposed 2013 county budget is available for inspection on the Finance Department budget link of the county’s web site at www.fremontco.com.