Grand County finalizes $41 million 2012 budget

Tonya Bina

In the county’s $41 million budget, the items gaining most attention are the closed Granby landfill pending a major project to stop the land from moving downhill, and water protections.

The Water Protection budget of the county’s Dec. 13-approved 2012 budget reflects $927,954 set aside. Nearly half of that total is for legal fees, the rest for monitoring, “learning by doing,” and engineers.

The water budget reflects “the board’s determination to stay in the game and continue to be counted as a key player” in water negotiations, said Grand County Manager Lurline Underbrink Curran.

As much as $6.6 million in a future lease-purchase agreement was budgeted by the commissioners for a proposed fix to the Granby landfill. The ground has been moving at the site since at least 2007. A tieback system was proposed as a solution, but since then, during the design phase, “concerns” arose. The system may need more tiebacks than anticipated, which would raise the cost. Commissioners are now re-anlyzing various solutions.

“It’s a project in flux,” Underbrink Curran said.

Capital projects at the county are still frozen in the 2012 budget, as they have been in previous years. Any arising needs are considered on a case-by-case basis and need approval by the board of commissioners.

“It appears in the next valuation, which is two years out, property values will still be decreasing,” Underbrink Curran said. It’s this reason, she said, commissioners are remaining set on a bare-bones budget. This strategy prepared the county for the 20 percent decline in property taxes. Property tax income makes up one-third of county revenues, followed by sales taxes, which has been showing encouraging signs of improvement of late, and other revenues, such as grants and federal and state pass-through funds.

Department heads were told to maintain a “static” budget this year, meaning similar to last year, Underbrink Curran said.

Salaries at the county have been frozen for the third-year running, and hiring is at a freeze in most departments. Only departments focused on “public health and safety” may hire employees, Underbrink Curran said.

Those are road and bridge, sheriff, EMS, public health and social services.

The county has not had any layoffs, but has fewer employees through attrition. To make up for lost staff, other departments have begun “sharing employees,” according to Accounting Director Scott Berger.

“It has been the board’s desire not to lay off anyone and to maintain our workforce because a lot of investment goes into your workforce,” Underbrink Curran said. “Would (commissioners) like to give merit? Sure they would. But there are people in the community who don’t have work and are struggling. Most of our employees for the most part feel fortunate they still have a job, a job with good benefits, and those are hard to come by today.”

“I think the most important thing for the county to do to help support the rest of the county is to maintain workforce,” Berger said. “It’s just so critical. All that money gets spent here in the county.”

All in all, Underbrink Curran called this year’s budget “non-eventful” and “vanilla.”

“People expect governments to tighten their belts the same as they do, and that’s what we’ve been doing for three years now,” she said.

The county’s total mill levy remains at 15.155 mills, with the budgeted total of property-tax revenue at $11.4 million.

– Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603

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