Spending cut still in place for the county

Signs of improvement not enough to offer employee raises in 2018

Frank Whidden

Scott McInnis

A 2018 budget proposed by Mesa County Administrator Frank Whidden would keep intact a 5 percent cut in approved 2017 spending for most county operations and claw back increases for additional deputy sheriffs and prosecutors.

Whidden presented his budget proposal Monday to the Mesa County Commission, which will have until Dec. 4 to approve a spending plan. The proposal was drafted with current revenues in mind, meaning it takes into account no revenues from a proposed public safety sales tax ballot measure voters will consider in the November election.

Whidden’s proposal is balanced, meaning that the county wouldn’t have to dip into savings, or fund balance, and would end 2018 with $12.9 million in the bank, the same amount that he expects to have when 2017 comes to an end.

2017 is now projected to finish with a $777,000 bite out of savings.

There are signs that the county’s economy is turning positive with increasing sales taxes, increasing levels of employment and building permits outstripping the rate of recent years, Whidden said.

For a variety of reasons, however, “We are not going to grow our way out of this current situation.”

Among those reasons are increasing costs for employee health insurance, legal defense and insurance costs and growing expenses for workers’ compensation coverage. Revenue limits contained in the state Constitution also mean that the county will be unable to take full advantage of increased money into the county coffers, Whidden noted.

The county this year rejected an opportunity to act as a pass-through agency between the state and Mind Springs Hospital because the $5 million grant would have counted against the county’s revenue cap, forcing a refund to county property owners.

The budget proposal includes no salary increases, but Whidden held out the possibility that the county could provide the employees’ shares of health-insurance costs. The effect of such a move on the budget remains undetermined.

In all, Whidden is proposing a $56.6 million budget, lower than the $57.4 million the commission approved for 2017 and above the $54.6 million that remained after the 5 percent cut in 2017 appropriations.

The 2017 budget was predicated on additional spending for the Mesa County Sheriff’s and District Attorney’s offices. The current plan directed $1.2 million more to the sheriff and about $300,000 more to the DA than had been spent in 2016 on those offices.

That spending will be redistributed to other county functions in 2018 if voters reject a plan to increase the sales tax by 0.37 percent, or 37 cents per $100 on eligible purchases, to raise $7.1 million for the county offices and for other municipal and emergency-service agencies.

The budget proposal illustrates the importance of gaining voter support of the sales-tax increase, Commissioner Scott McInnis said.

“All bets are off if we don’t have success in November,” McInnis said.

The county is not drawing up a second budget should the sales-tax increase pass, Whidden said.

The commission has said the sheriff’s and district attorney’s offices would compete for general fund dollars as they always have after receiving their shares of the new sales tax revenues.


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