Mesa County fiscally sound despite rough economy, officials say

Despite plummeting sales-tax revenue, soaring foreclosures and a steady decline in building permits, Mesa County leaders insisted Thursday the county is on solid financial footing due to a healthy fund balance and plans to expedite capital projects.

“Obviously the state of our local economy is certainly struggling right now,” Commissioner Craig Meis said during the annual State of the County presentation at the old Mesa County courthouse, 544 Rood Ave.

“But we have placed ourselves in a good position to weather the storm,” Meis said.

The number of building permits issued in the county has dropped each year since 2007, from 468 issued in the first two months that year to 234 this year. Foreclosure filings nearly tripled from 100 in January and February of last year to 287 this year.

At the same time, county sales-tax receipts are down 21 percent so far this year compared to the first two months of 2009. And last year’s revenue was down by nearly the same amount compared to 2008.

Even with the grim numbers, county officials say they are prepared to withstand the downturn.

The county cut spending 8 percent this year, eliminated 33 full-time positions, froze employee wages and reduced employee retirement contributions and medical plan benefits. It also eliminated planning and development fees and cut business personal property taxes by $500,000 to encourage developers and businesses to move to or expand in the county.

The county is in position to absorb the blow dealt by slumping sales-tax numbers because its 2010 budget calls for a $39 million fund balance, nearly a quarter of the total budget.

County Administrator Jon Peacock said officials made sure during robust years earlier this decade to set aside money in the event the economy turned sour.

Commissioners noted county finances will receive a boost in 2011 because sales-tax bonds issued in the 1980s for a variety of projects will be paid off and the county will be debt-free.

The county also intends to fast-track some capital projects this year to take advantage of a competitive bidding environment and low construction prices. Those projects could include improvements to D 1/2 Road between 30 and 32 roads and the Mesa County Fairgrounds on U.S. Highway 50.

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