2008 Grand County budget focuses on water issues | SkyHiNews.com

2008 Grand County budget focuses on water issues

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi Daily News

The Grand County budget reflects a focus on water quality and quantity while managing a moving landfill, completing a new judicial building and coping with a beetle-kill epidemic.

County Manager Lurline Underbrink Curran and Finance Director Scott Berger shared the highlights of the approved 2008 budget recently:

Water makes waves in 2008 budget

The county is committed to “protecting and enhancing water in every way possible,” says the county manager.

The water protection budget is set at $1,144,407 for 2008, a significant portion of which will be used to address the water quality in Grand Lake. About $100,000 more has been set aside in a separate water-quality budget to support monitoring and other testing that is directly attributable to the Three Lakes.

The county has also established a budget with five other partners for the purchase of 85 shares of the Vail Ditch. By setting aside $325,000 in 2008, in addition to funds already spent, the county hopes to change the point of release for a portion of these shares to improve the water quantity and quality from the head of the Fraser River to its confluence with the Colorado River, and down the Colorado to the western boundary of the county.

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Among other water projects, the county’s stream management plan has a cost of more than $800,000, $450,000 of which has already been spent out of county funds.

Grand County’s Department of Natural Resources continues its work related to the pine beetle epidemic, from which a large portion of 2007 department funds were sponged. For 2008, $272,000 has been set aside to help combat the problem of diseased trees cluttering the county’s forested rights of way and managing a slash-burn program that has attracted an unprecedented number of participants in the past few years.

Last year, the department oversaw 10,000 burn piles. To help with the tree removal-push, Title III Forest Service funds in lieu of taxes may help county efforts to the tune of about $120,000 next year. The thrust of logging activity in the county reflects efforts put forth four to five years ago when the area was first in the throes of the epidemic, according to Underbrink Curran.

Government-supported commissioner trips to Washington, D.C., as well as invitations to state representatives and senators, helped to bring awareness to the problem early on, she said. Now, other counties are struggling to get the same action in their forests that Grand County has, she said.

“Grand County local government was monumental, when you measure against what everyone else is trying to do, we are head and shoulders ahead of the problem,” she said.

County landfill affects county building renovations

The landfill was a major budget setback in 2007, affecting renovation plans for the existing county courthouse. Although the earth slough cost the county $4 million, the county continued services without cuts, Underbrink Curran said. Department heads, however, were asked to budget conservatively for 2008.

For county offices, the 2008 renovations planned to complement the new $8.3 million judicial building being constructed next door may not happen in the coming year because of landfill-related costs. Once the judicial wing of the existing building was vacated, renovations were to begin to help alleviate the lack of space in county offices.

Staff added over the years has some employee offices located in closet-like rooms.

“We’ve even had people in the hall,” Underbrink Curran said.

“At one time, the accounting department was in the judicial break room,” Berger added.

The renovations, which will create space for the building department and social services making the building a “one-stop shop” for county services, may have to be postponed.

The new judicial building, however, is on schedule and on budget, according to the county manager. The building (with possible funds left over for partial county office building renovations) is being paid for by a lease purchase in the amount of $9.9 million and an added $1 million from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.

The general contractor is Big Valley Construction of Granby, with a contract for $7.3 million. The Granby architecture firm Allen B. Carter Architect, has a $1 million contract. Payment for a project manager also comes out of the budgeted total.

“Big Valley is doing an excellent job. There’s a lot of local labor out there. It’s something were proud of,” Underbrink Curran said.

The judicial building will provide needed space for a growing Grand County court system.

“We had no denial that the concerns expressed by the courts were more than real,” Underbrink Curran said. “We had to create a separation.”

Airport improvements on the horizon

For improvements to the Granby airport, the county has planned for an $88,000 expenditure in the 2008 budget. Matching funds from the state further cover the cost, but the bulk of improvements will be paid for by the Federal Aviation Administration, in an estimated amount of $2.9 million.

The final figure will not be set until April, when the federal budget is approved and the contract is finalized. The major airport improvement project will span more than two years, and include widening and lengthening the runway, airport safety clearances to meet FAA standards and new runway lighting. The airport will be maintained as a general aviation airport.

Meanwhile, at the Kremmling airport, which the county owns in conjunction with the town, no improvements are scheduled for the next two years, according to the county manager.

Emergency Medical Services gets kudos

“Taxpayers should be proud of their decision to finance EMS,” Underbrink Curran said. “Before, EMS was close to non-existence. Since then, in my opinion, EMS has improved itself to being the premier emergency medical services in the state.”

Underbrink Curran mentioned the state awards personnel have received, and their competence in covering the 1,845 square miles of the county. Total revenues for EMS equate to nearly 50/50 in taxpayer funds and charges for service. Total revenues for 2008 are estimated at $3.5 million. Expenditures in personnel is at $2 million, and operations and capital amount to $1 million.

But the county writes off about a quarter-million dollars in unpaid EMS bills annually, Underbrink Curran said, in spite of the flexibility in payment county residents are granted. When the mill levy passed, county EMS decided to “give back” to the community by making its billing collection “resident friendly.”

“If someone says, ‘I can’t pay my bill,'” Underbrink Curran said, “as long as they make some payment and keep current with that, we’ll ride it. … Tell us what you can pay, we’ll work with you.”

The budget skinny

The 2008 county budget reflects $61 million in expenditures, which includes $9.8 million of transfers between funds as well as $5 million in lease funds.

Take those out, and that leaves about $46 million in expenditures.

The budget’s 2008 revenues total $38 million, which also includes $9.8 million in transfers between funds.

Boil it all down, and the county is left with a projected $15 million cash balance in 2008, $20 million including capital assets.

In the county’s most significant funds in 2008, which include capital assets such as equipment: Road and bridge has $1.9 million; the general fund shows $4.9 million; the solid waste fund shows $2.9 million; the sales tax capital fund has a balance of $2.2 million; and the major capital fund shows $2.7 million.

“The expenditure looks big, but it is mostly spent in the county,” Underbrink Curran said. “Hopefully it benefits everybody.”

County officials are available to answer questions about the 2008 approved budget.

Hard copies of the budget are available at the county offices in the Grand County Courthouse, Hot Sulphur Springs. The document also will be available electronically soon online at http://co.grand.co.us. Budgets and financial statements from the past year are also online.

” Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail tbina@grandcountynews.com.

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