Reserve funding for Mesa County dips to 20% in 2014

County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca

Don’t think of Mesa County’s budget balance as a rainy day fund.

If that were the case, the stormy economy of the past five years would have wiped out the amount the county sets aside from each yearly budget, according to Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca.

Colorado counties are required by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights to set aside an amount equal to 3 percent of the money the county plans to spend in a fiscal year, excluding bonded debt service, in an emergency reserve fund.

Still, counties across the state vary wildly in what percent of their budgets they actually set aside.

Last week, Mesa County commissioners voted to set aside $29.4 million, or 18.87 percent of the overall 2014 budget, as a “fund balance,” or essentially a reserve category. The equivalent of 20 percent of general fund expenditures, $11.25 million, will go unspent next year, barring unforeseen circumstances.

It is those unforeseen circumstances that spurred commissioners to keep the fund balance above the required 3 percent, Acquafresca said.

“We don’t know what will be the next shoe to drop,” he said. “I doubt there are any counties at 3 percent. If so, they’re living on the edge.”

Still, the county has made a dent in both general fund and total fund balances. Commissioners set aside nearly $46.7 million in the 2009 budget overall, 26.6 percent of budget appropriations that year.

The county fund balance has fluctuated since then but has not climbed above $42 million since.

This year’s balance is the lowest in the county in more than a decade. The general fund balance is the county’s lowest since 2005.

Concerns about budget items like keeping the District Attorney’s Office and Mesa County Sheriff’s Office fully funded and paying the county’s share for Orchard Mesa Pool contributed to this year’s dip in the fund balance.

Commissioners did not feel comfortable going any lower and still made some cuts in 2014, including $17,000 in funding for the Riverfront Commission and $10,000 of the typical $25,000 the county sends to the Grand Junction Economic Partnership.


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