After years of dramatic declines, La Plata County’s budget seems to be evening out, county officials said Tuesday.
Since 2010, La Plata County’s property tax revenue has declined about 50% – from $29.4 million to $14.9 million in 2018 – mostly a result from a steep drop in natural gas production in the county.
The fall in property tax revenue has resulted in La Plata County having less money for its operating budget, causing the county to cut services to residents, reduce staff and not embark on as many maintenance projects, like improving roads.
But County Manager Chuck Stevens said Tuesday at a presentation of the proposed 2020 budget that the county is now in a “healthy position” to start making modest investments in services and staffing. Reports show revenue is up about 2.7% from last year to $63 million.
As part of the new budget, county officials are proposing rehiring about 10 of 21 positions left vacant to deal with the dwindling budget, mostly in the Department of Human Services and the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office.
By the numbersThe county plans to spend about $75.7 million in 2020, which is down 4% from last year’s budget. Most of that money is allocated for staff salaries and benefits, operating costs and one-time projects.
County officials expect $63 million in revenue, with sales tax the largest source at around $17.6 million. Property tax is the second largest source of funding at around $15.9 million.
The difference of about $12 million in revenue and expenditures mostly accounts for one-time projects the county has budgeted for in funds set aside for this purpose, in what is called the capital-improvement fund.
In 2020, for the first time in years, the county is using money out of the “fund balance” to help complete the last of capital improvements identified in a long-range study for its facilities in 2012.
Stevens said the county budgeted for 11 capital improvement projects, totaling about $7.1 million. About $2.8 million of that total, however, is expected to be offset by various grants.
About $4.6 million of the $12 million difference is budgeted for the contingency fund, which is rarely used, county officials say.
Building projectsSeveral building projects are planned in the proposed 2020 budget:
About $2 million is budgeted for the completion of the remodel of the Armory Building for the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office, expected to be finished in March 2020. The county expects about $375,000 to come back from a state grant.About $272,400 is budgeted for the construction of a new facility for La Plata County Search and Rescue. Last year, the county spent an estimated $709,000 on the project, which is expected to be completed in 2020.About $400,000 is budgeted for additional costs associated with a new weather radar system expected to be installed in La Plata County, including costs to supply power and other site work. The state of Colorado is funding a large portion of the project, about $1.7 million.About $578,700 is budgeted to demolish the county building at the corner of 11th Street and East Second Avenue, called the Schluter Building. County officials say the building is beyond repair. The county plans to build a two-level parking lot on the site.About $390,700 is budgeted for an autopsy room for the La Plata County coroner. Lack of space for the coroner has been a reoccurring concern for years. The new office would be located in the old La Plata County Jail.Road projectsAbout $2.3 million is budgeted for the U.S. Highway 550 Fastlane project, as well as improvements along county roads 220 and 219 and demolition of the existing Farmington Hill alignment. About 2.1 million of the project is expected to be funded by outside entities.About $1.75 million is budgeted to repave 3.1 miles of County Road 210. County officials say if the road is not paved, it will require a complete reconstruction that would be more expensive.About $1.4 million is budgeted for a mill and overlay of County Road 502, northwest of Bayfield. A grant from the state is expected to cover about $600,000 of the project.Commissioners reactCommissioner Gwen Lachelt called it an “optimistic budget” after years of taking an ultra-conservative approach.
“I think it underscores that we are embracing our economic reality,” she said. “And it doesn’t negate the need for a strong property tax mill levy at all.”
Commissioner Clyde Church said it is important to take care of county staff and remain a competitive employer. He commended county staff for the proposed budget.
And Commissioner Julie Westendorff said the 2020 proposed budget is vastly different from the past couple of years where the county took an extreme conservative approach.
“Staff thinks we’re in a new normal, and in this new normal, we can look at appropriate levels of staffing without being as concerned about unpredictability of future revenue streams,” she said.