Finance director: Grand County working toward balanced budget | SkyHiNews.com

Finance director: Grand County working toward balanced budget

Hank Shell
hshell@skyhidailynews.com

Grand County's finance director has said the county is on its way to balancing its budget after receiving revised spending estimates from county departments.

Finance Director Scott Berger told the board of county commissioners in September that the county could face a budget deficit going into 2017 if it did not alter its spending trajectory.

"I've never considered bankruptcy to be an option for the county, but obviously when the departments did their first request for a $9 million spend down in fund balances, that was very aggressive on their part," Berger said. "Now that we have a 2016 staff estimate for what we can do, that I can see as a transition to get us to a more balanced budget, but again you can see from the board that fund balances are dropping quickly, and that's the message I wanted to bring to the commissioners."

The county had implemented a strategy of spending down of fund balances over the last few years after what some officials said was public pressure to reduce the county's large reserves.

A forecasted drop in revenues compounded the rate at which reserves were forecasted to drop.

The county started 2014 with $24.2 million and had previously been projected to cut that number to $7.9 million by the end of 2015.

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"The 2015 estimate is really based on information that we're getting from the departments in terms of what they're going to spend so it's just really hard to nail that number down and say yes we are or are not going to spend this for the next three months," Berger said.

Commissioner Merrit Linke said he felt "the whole county is bankrupt statement was very premature."

Though it has never been officially asserted that the county is bankrupt, Linke was ostensibly referring to Berger's previous warnings that the county needed to cut spending going into the 2016 budget process.

"I'm not saying that we don't have plenty of work to do, we don't have plenty of cuts to make, we don't have plenty of needs versus wants, we don't have plenty of that stuff to do, but I still stand by that statement that this whole county is bankrupt thing is way premature," Linke said.

Commissioner James Newberry said that he felt the county was "on track" financially.

The board has exhibited a conservative approach to spending during budget hearings this week.

Staff recommended spending reductions in the proposed budgets for the county's two largest departments, emergency medical services and road and bridge, during budget hearings on Oct. 5.

During that hearing, Berger said he anticipated the county's reserves to drop to around $14.2 million by the end of 2015.

The county will accept public comments on the budget until Dec. 3 and adopt its final 2016 budget on Dec. 8.

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