Mesa County poised for budget hit of 10 percent

The knife Mesa County used to trim its budget this year will cut deeper across all county departments next year, and finance officials warn they expect revenue to fall further before any rebound emerges on the horizon.

Acting County Administrator Stefani Conley on Monday gave county commissioners their first look at a proposed $127.3 million 2011 budget, a spending plan that is 10 percent off last year’s adopted budget and nearly 19 percent down from the 2009 budget.

“The low-hanging fruit was gone a year ago,” Commissioner Craig Meis said of pending spending reductions after the board learned the county must make up for a $9.5 million shortfall in its general fund, which pays for most county services. “We’re doing our best to make lemonade out of the lemons we’ve got.”

Next year’s budget represents both a reaction to a drop in virtually all forms of revenue the county takes in and an anticipation of the financial hit the county will absorb in 2012 from the real-estate market decline.

By the end of the year, county officials expect decreases of 80 percent in the federal Payment in Lieu of Taxes program, 22 percent in specific ownership tax, 11 percent in sales and use tax, and 3 percent in property tax.

The 3 percent slide in property tax is small, however, compared to the 20 to 30 percent plunge the county expects to encounter in 2012 when the Assessor’s Office revalues the 87,000 properties in the county next year.

The county almost exclusively internalized budget reductions this year in an effort to avoid impacts to county services. It doesn’t have that luxury next year, though, and some of the largest cuts will slice into departments that interact the most with the public. The Sheriff’s Department, the District Attorney’s Office and the Clerk and Recorder’s Office are poised to take some of the biggest hits.

The across-the-board cuts will keep the county from dipping too far into its reserve funds. Conley said she is aiming to keep $34 million in the county’s overall fund balance and $12 million in the general fund balance. Both balances would represent more than 20 percent of the county’s expenditures.

“Having these fiscally responsible fund balances will be critical in addressing 2012 fiscal challenges,” Conley told commissioners.

Commissioners will approve the 2011 budget in December.


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