Analysis of county pay shows huge hikes for some

FRANK WHIDDEN "There's a lot of good news out there right now."

Thanks to a booming construction market and consumer confidence that is driving up sales tax receipts, Mesa County revenues in 2019 are expected to be higher than the county can handle.

Though the county's revenues are likely to exceed what it is allowed to keep under the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, that doesn't mean residents will see a refund just yet.

That won't happen until after the county sees exactly how much more in revenues it took in than is allowed, which won't happen until later next year. That means the excess revenues — projected to be about $4 million — won't go back to residents until 2020 in the form of a property tax mill levy decrease.

"There's a lot of good news out there right now, certainly better than the last two or three years when I came before you making presentations like this," County Administrator Frank Whidden told county commissioners on Monday. "We've seen a great deal of good news coming out of the building and planning departments with the development that's going on around town, and that's reflected to some degree in some of your revenue figures."

While it's early in the county's budget process — that spending plan won't be complete until December — it's projected to grow from about $165 million this year to more than $172 million in 2019, just under its TABOR revenue cap that allows for such growth.

That's partly because nearly all revenue sources have increased this year except for specific ownership taxes county residents pay on their vehicles, which are projected to decline by nearly $208,000.

Sales taxes are expected to increase by $1.1 million next year, a projected 3 percent increase over this year, while property tax revenues are expected to go up more than $600,000.

Much of the increase in revenues is because of booming real estate and construction economies in the Grand Valley, Whidden said.

So far this year, for example, building permits are up nearly 29 percent in the first three quarters of this year, nearly matching the number of permits issued all of last year.

Property sales also are up so far this year. Year-to-date real estate sales in the county as of August were at about $612 million, compared to about $434 million during the same period in 2017.

Next year's proposed budget calls for restoring some of the expenditures that were cut during the recession in some but not all county offices.

In his proposed budget, Whidden is hoping to increase the county's reserve fund by about $500,000 to about $14 million but isn't anticipating any change in the county's mill levy, which has stood at 12.162 since 2010.

The budget also anticipates a $1 million increase in county employees' health care coverage, a cost the county plans to absorb without raising premiums for its employees.

The proposed budget reflects a $1.2 million increase in compensation and benefits for all county workers, most of which is encompassed by the absorbed increase in health insurance costs.

The county is inviting taxpayers to comment on the proposed budget online at mesacounty.us/finances/budgets. Commissioners will formally adopt the budget in December.

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