County focused on budget challenges
By Mesa County Commissioners
With all the community and employee feedback the Mesa County Board of Commissioners received regarding employee compensation and budget, the commissioners wanted to take the opportunity to explain Mesa County’s financial situation.
Mesa County is facing severe budgetary challenges, but the commissioners are committed to doing the best we can with the resources we have for both our community and employees.
While the commissioners appreciate and value the hard work and dedication of the county’s employees, the priority for the commissioners is to try to protect jobs. We are not in a financial position to give employee raises at this time. We wish we were, but we have to face the reality of the county’s budget.
As of today, Mesa County is facing a projected $2.7 million deficit for 2018. It is evident we cannot afford employee performance-based pay increases. The issue is not if employees deserve raises; the issue is we cannot afford them. The board’s fundamental responsibility is to appropriate a sustainable budget.
Earlier this month, Mesa County department heads were asked to find efficient ways to reduce their budget spending by 5 percent at their discretion. Mesa County has a revenue problem, and it is necessary that leadership take action now. We all need to right-size our organizations with the resources we have, not with resources we wish we had. We cannot underplay the significant countywide budgetary challenges we are facing.
Although Mesa County cannot afford pay increases, the board has stepped up in a substantial way to help employees by not increasing the employees’ contribution toward health insurance premiums that continue to escalate drastically. In 2015, the board increased the amount that the county contributes toward employee premiums to keep employee portions of their paid premiums stable. Employees have not seen a premium increase since 2013, and we continue to advocate for the county to absorb health care increases as a benefit to our staff.
The county also provides additional benefits such as paid time off, retirement, long-term disability, dental, accidental death and dismemberment and basic life insurance. To be fair, the benefits the county provides for employees are a valuable component of their compensation package.
Another area of misconception is the increase in salary for all county elected positions. To clarify, in May 2015, the Colorado Legislature (not the board) voted to increase the annual salaries of all elected state and county positions. This year, only two Mesa County positions filled by the November 2016 election received a wage increase. No other raises will take effect until 2019 for the remaining Mesa County elected positions.
The main budgetary concern for the commissioners remains adequately funding public safety. Prioritizing law enforcement strengthens our community and helps us to attain our economic development goals. The board continues to work hard to prioritize core government services according to the proper role of government, and public safety is at the top.
However, the $1.5 million increase in the 2017 budget to fund public safety was a one-time fix, and it is not sustainable in 2018 and beyond. The commissioners will address a ballot measure in the November election regarding the budgetary challenges Mesa County is currently facing.
Mesa County has no choice but to work with the realities of its budget. The commissioners’ constituents depend on the board to be fiscally responsible stewards of taxpayer money and spend within the county’s means. The board will not solve the county’s financial woes unless we find countywide solutions.