Financial stability, infrastructure needs and long-range planning are some of the main goals for the La Plata County commissioners in 2015.
Commissioner Julie Westendorff said Tuesday in her State of the County address that efforts are underway to chart a course for long-term financial sustainability after years of declining property-tax revenue.
In the last four years, the county’s income from property taxes has decreased by 48 percent. But the county is operating within its budget, and the short-term economic outlook promises improvement, she said.
“Emerging economic signs are positive, and there are reasons for optimism,” Westendorff said.
The reasons for hope include an increase in the county’s property-tax revenue by $1.35 million to $17 million, or 8.5 percent, compared with 2014. Sales-tax revenue also is projected to increase by 6 percent to $15.3 million.
However, the county does not expect revenue from taxes to exceed pre-recession levels in the foreseeable future, making it difficult to maintain bridges, roads and other infrastructure. A tax increase is a possible solution.
The Long-Term Finance Committee has laid out six options for potential tax increases that would help with these infrastructure needs. Three of the options propose property-tax increases, and three include raising sales taxes.
Any tax increase would have to be approved by voters.
The county commissioners and the committee members are planning to discuss the options next week, Assistant County Manager Joanne Spina said.
As a stopgap measure in recent years, the county has relied on fees and grants to help fund major road improvements.
For example, the $3.2 million it took to improve the intersection of Colorado Highway 172 and county roads 513 and 311 came from a Federal Hazard Elimination Program Grant, an Energy and Mineral Impact Assistance grant and fees collected on natural-gas developments.
Several other major road-related projects have been at least partially funded through grants, but the needs far outstrip what the county can fund through grants.
“That’s the biggest issue I would like to solve this year,” Westendorff said in an interview.
In the coming year, the Planning Commission intends to update its comprehensive plan, which guides county policies in areas including housing, land use, recreation and transportation.
“This important effort will guide future development based on community priorities,” Westendorff said.
The last comprehensive plan was finished in 2001 and did not address oil and natural-gas development sufficiently, she said.
The Water Advisory Commission also is working to address five questions about water needs by August.
The commission is examining water infrastructure, water supply, and potentially purchasing water from Lake Nighthorse, among other issues. The findings of the commission will help inform the comprehensive plan.
Westendorff claimed the ongoing remodel of the former Vectra Bank branch into the new County Administration Building at 1101 East Second Avenue as an accomplishment. The $4 million project is expected to be completed in early summer.
The county also plans to spend $900,000 in 2015 on software upgrades that include credit-card payment systems, new mapping technology and a website redesign that will include an interactive tool for residents.
The county hopes to use the tool to seek public feedback on water-policy questions, comprehensive planning and a potential tax increase.