Proposed county budget has $38M in big projects

Capital projects would get a big boost next year if the framework for the county’s 2013 budget that was previewed Monday is adopted later this year.

County Administrator Chantal Unfug presented the preliminary plan for next year’s county finances — a budget noteworthy for a nearly 10 percent increase in planned capital spending, balanced by continued financing levels on the operations side.

“Our revenues are not bouncing back as much as we had all hoped, and the county’s resources are still tight. But there are some bright spots that give us cause for some optimism, and confirm that we are on the right track,” Unfug told commissioners.

“To be clear, we’re not out of the woods yet. We are in this situation for the long haul. But we are working hard to invest in the community’s priorities,” she said.

The overall proposed 2013 budget is nearly $153.6 million — a 3.4 percent increase over 2012. Most of that increase can be found in the proposed capital budget, which is expected to be just over $38.6 million.

The three capital projects the county has earmarked for 2013 are: a $7.5 million Workforce Center building, slated to be built on 29 1/2 Road; phase two of the Fruita Connection project of the Colorado Riverfront Trail; and improvements planned for the Mesa County Fairgrounds.

The county’s capital budget fluctuates from year to year, based on collections from county sales tax. By law, half of the 2 percent sales tax the county collects must go toward infrastructure and capital construction.

For the more than 900 county employees, no raises are planned as part of the budget for next year. The county phased out an annual merit-based pay raise program in 2009.

Unfug said staffing levels are planned to stay the same, however. She also said the county will award one-time performance payments at the end of the year to employees who qualify after a merit-based performance analysis.

She added: “Next year we will finalize a longterm plan for employee pay and benefits, including re-implementing our market study and performance-based merit pay system.”

Employees will be paying $10 a month more in 2013 for health insurance premiums.

While overall revenues are projected to be up slightly (2.91 percent over 2012), sales tax revenues are predicted to be up more than 7.6 percent over last year. Property tax collections, though, are expected to be up just 0.31 percent over 2012.

But it appears an effort by the county to trim the fat, by identifying areas where there is room for efficiencies or cost savings, is paying off. Unfug touted nearly $1 million she said was directly trimmed by 87 initiatives across the county organization to try and realize savings through process changes.

Unfug ticked off a number of initiatives that were particularly successful in saving money. The elections division saved more than $100,000 by bundling ballot purchases into a multiyear agreement, and saved another $100,000 by directly hiring election judges. A new pretrial report tool saved the criminal justice services department $270,000. Regional services saved $130,000 through changes to their construction management processes, and the treasurer has added $73,000 to the county’s general fund by holding their tax lien sale online.


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