Thanks to an increase in revenues, Mesa County’s proposed 2022 budget is flush with cash.
That’s partly due to a better-than-expected increase in sales tax revenues, but also about $17 million in federal money from the American Rescue Plan approved by Congress to state and local governments to help them recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
County Administrator Pete Baier and County Budget Manager Spencer Rockwell told the Mesa County Board of Commissioners that the extra money can be used to invest in numerous infrastructure projects to help the county’s economy recover from the pandemic.
“It puts us in a very good fiscal component currently,” Baier said. “We’re able to take that money and use it aggressively in the community, and at the same time continue to have a very strong fiscal component to what we have.”
Some of the money is to be used to help boost economic development in select areas, such as in Clifton and with new communities centers elsewhere in the county.
Still, Baier and Rockwell remain cautious about the future of the local economy, especially given the ongoing pandemic and impacts to the nation’s supply chain.
“It’s a little hard to make heads or tails out of the remarkable growth that we’ve seen through a period of time when a year ago at this time we’re still kind of bracing for impact in terms of how COVID would affect local government finances,” Rockwell said.
“Obviously, we’re not experiencing the worst-case scenarios that we imagined at that time,” he added. “But it’s not entirely clear whether that’s because of the massive federal stimulus over the last couple of months, (and) it’s not clear what people are going to do with the large amount of savings that they have accrued over the last two years. There are a lot of unknowns about what’s going to happen next.”
But because of the conservative nature in how the county does its budgeting, the revenue windfall is allowing it to put aside about $23 million in its rainy-day fund, known as its unassigned general fund balance.
That balance has grown about 107% over the past two years, and now has reached about 32% of all expenditures. That’s enough money to fund county government for four months without any new revenues coming in.
Regardless, the $198 million 2022 budget calls for more pay increases for rank-and-file county workers, a 2% increase in their retirement accounts, no increases in health care insurance and 22 new positions in various county departments, including law enforcement, human services, solid waste and the parks department.
The commissioners are to vote on next year’s budget in December.