Grand County begins budget hearings | SkyHiNews.com

Grand County begins budget hearings

Hank Shell
hshell@skyhidailynews.com

Grand County department heads will get a sense of just how much falling revenues will affect their allocations as the 2016 budget process unfolds this week.

County Finance Director Scott Berger kicked off the financial rigmarole on Monday morning, Oct. 5, by delivering the budget overview.

As hearings progressed throughout the day, the board of county commissioners repeatedly grappled with the effects budget reductions will have on county services.

Previous discussions between the board of county commissioners and Berger have indicated that projected spending among county departments will be cut in 2016.

This is in part due to falling property tax revenue, Berger said during the budget overview.

Those revenues, the county's biggest source of income, fell from $10.6 million in 2015 to $10.3 million projected for 2015, Berger said.

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With assessed valuations decreasing around 1 percent next year, that figure is anticipated to drop to around $9.2 million in 2016, Berger said.

An impending fall in production at the Henderson Mill is also anticipated to impact property tax revenue.

The county's general fund will take $6.1 million of that revenue. Emergency Medical Services will receive $1.4 million from its dedicated mill levy.

The county currently has about $23 million in fund balances, which Berger said he anticipates to reach $14.7 million after all of 2015's expenditures are tallied.

Current estimates show the total fund balance dropping to $10.8 million by the end of 2016, Berger said.

Commissioner James Newberry added that it was the county's intent to spend fund balances down, and that the county was "on projections" to reach its goal.

"That was the management team's decision, that we would work through maintaining county services, hope for a recovery in the construction and development business and see an increase in assessed values," Berger said.

Proposed departmental budgets presented on Oct. 5 revealed a more conservative tack on the part of staff in its recommendations.

On the road and bridge and emergency medical service department budgets, the county's two largest departments, staff recommended large reductions in the expenditures anticipated by the departments.

In the road and bridge department, staff recommended reducing the anticipated amount spent on fuel, road maintenance and equipment by around $300,000.

"We can continue this level of service that the road and bridge department wants to maintain only so long," Berger said. "It's a great level of service if you can afford it."

Road and Bridge Superintendent Ken Haynes added that operating expenditures would increase even more in 2017 as the department runs low on equipment stocks.

On the county EMS budget, staff recommended cutting $175,000 in capital expenditures proposed by the department.

Commissioners also discussed cutting the number of ambulances staffed every day from four to three, allowing the department to get rid of one of its 10 ambulances and cut six positions.

EMS Chief Ray Jennings said that out-of-county transfers would be limited by such a cut and the department would lose revenue.

Jennings suggested raising EMS fees to increase revenues and make the department more self sufficient.

Budget hearings will continue through Thursday, Oct. 8, and appointed and elected officials will receive preliminary budget determinations on Oct. 20.

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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