County to hear details about $70.5 million budget

Reserve funds will cover $7.7M shortfall

The La Plata County commissioners will hold a public hearing tonight about the county’s proposed $70.5 million budget for 2013.

The hearing is at 6:30 p.m. at the County Courthouse.

The $70.5 million in proposed expenditures is $3.5 million less than last year when expenditures totalled $74 million. Also, revenues are projected to be down $1.1 million from last year when they were $64 million.

The county plans to dip into its reserve funds to cover the $7.7 million gap between revenue and expenditures.

One reason for the revenue decline is a projected 6 percent decrease in property-tax revenue, stemming primarily from falling natural-gas prices.

Natural-gas prices fell from $4 per one thousand cubic feet to $3 per thousand cubic feet from 2010 to 2011.

Meanwhile sales-tax collections are projected to increase by 2 percent.

Despite operating at a deficit, the county is in a stable position financially, Commissioner Wally White said.

“In comparison to the state and other counties, we’re in very good shape,” he said. “We’ve got a good rainy-day fund based on all our savings we’ve accomplished.”

According to the proposed budget, the county will have a reserve fund of $66.5 million in 2013.

Those reserves make it unlikely the county will look to increase revenues in the next couple of years, despite the projected decline in property-tax revenues, White said.

The county also budgets conservatively, and it has ended the last several years with budget surpluses despite projected deficits, which could happen again next year, said Commissioner Bobby Lieb.

If the county wants to create a balanced budget it would need to start cutting services and the county isn’t prepared to do that yet, Lieb said

Since 2012, the county has eliminated 19 staffing positions, but the 2013 draft budget proposes adding 4½ positions and filling one vacant position in the information-technology department.

Three of the five added positions are in the Sheriff’s Office – one each in criminal investigations, public safety and special services.

The Sheriff’s Office needed the extra staff to handle increases in the frequency of calls and the amount of work required in each case, Lieb said.

Another position will be a part-time administrative assistant in the planning department.

“We probably went a little too far (with cuts), so there is a bottleneck at the administrative level within the department,” Lieb said.

The budget also includes $2 million for renovations to the County Courthouse provided the commissioners approve a 10-year lease to house a federal courtroom.

The commissioners will vote on the final budget Dec. 11.

ecowan@durangoherald.com