La Plata County commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved the 2018 budget that aims to retain services amid continuing declines in its revenues.
“Despite this being a challenging time for the county financially, it’s been a positive budgeting process,” said County Manager Joanne Spina.
County expenditures for 2018 are expected to be about $79.4 million, a 2.6 percent increase from last year, while revenues are expected to hit about $69 million, an increase of 0.8 percent.
Property tax revenue is expected to fall to an estimated $15 million, a 3.3 percent decline since last year and a 50 percent fall since 2010, mostly a result from the downturn of oil and gas prices.
That’s resulted in the county having to adopt a mantra of “living within our means” as the drastic fall in operating funds inevitably will translate into a reduction of services, county officials say.
“We can cut costs ... but we also will be cutting the service at some point to county constituents,” said La Plata County Commissioner Julie Westendorff.
The county will leave 19 positions vacant, saving about $1.16 million, and has instituted a 60-day hiring hiatus to determine whether other positions must be filled as a result of needing to cut back costs.
The 2018 budget went through an extensive public outreach process, as well as an internal review, since it was released earlier this year.
Notable changes accepted in the final budget since it was first presented include a 1.5 percent salary increase to eligible employees, said county Finance Director Diane Sorensen, with the aim to retain and attract qualified employees.
A county report said the county’s turnover rate increased from 6.6 percent in 2013 to 8 percent in 2017, which can end up costing the county more to hire new employees.
Personnel expenditures in 2018 amount to just over $30.9 million, a 3.8 percent decrease from 2016.
Another change of note is a new budgeting line item for road improvements to the U.S. Highway 550/160 Grandview interchange. Spina said the project is complementary work to the Colorado Department of Transportation’s major project in the area.
The project, in total, is budgeted to cost $2 million, but through grants and collaborations with other local agencies, the county expects to spend only $250,000 out of its own bank.
In all, county officials say the budget successfully balances operating revenues sufficient to cover operating expenses. A major contributing factor is that insurance premiums did not increase this year.
“We’re very fortunate to not have premiums increase this year,” Spina said.