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County budget foresees leaner times
From Silverton Standard, the place where you can write!
Posted on November 05 2009, 11:07am by Mark Esper in Local News category
 County valuation. Source: San Juan County Assessor's Office.
San Juan County commissioners are reviewing a proposed 2010 budget that holds general fund spending to a 2 percent increase over the 2009 budget (not including grants), but gives a $27,540 boost to the sheriff’s office budget, largely for Fourth of July crowd control operations.
County administrator Willy Tookey told the county commissioners last week that sagging property values and the recession will put the county in a tight financial position.
“Our big concern isn’t so much 2010, it’s 2011, 2012 and beyond,” Tookey said. “We expect no increases in revenue over the next few years.”
Tookey says there is a strong possibility that property tax revenue going to the county will drop in 2011 after the reassessment that year.
This year’s reassessment had the county’s valuation up just 6 percent. The county had enjoyed sharp increases in property values in recent years. In 2007, property values shot up 35.5 percent. Reassessments are done every two years.
And Tookey warned that state grant funding is drying up as the Legislature in Denver deals with its own budget shortfalls.
“Once that money’s gone, it’s hard to put it back (into the state budget),” Tookey said.
Tookey said his biggest concern is the county’s road and bridge fund. He said money for operations is adequate, but the county may not be able to put enough aside in escrow accounts to pay for future equipment needs.
“It’s going to be rough,” Tookey said.
One of the bigger increases in the budget is $27,540 more for the sheriff’s office, to be split with the Town of Silverton. Some $18,000 of that is for costs for the Fourth of July operations.
Another significant change in the budget is in the use of two of the 18 mills assessed by the county.
One mill generates about $58,000. In recent years, two mills was set aside for courthouse restoration work, much of which was done this year.
Tookey proposes putting some of that money into the road and bridge fund next year and toward finishing the workforce housing project at the former Walsh-Rose Smelter site.
The proposed budget allocates $50,000 for the road fund and $50,000 for the smelter site.
County Board Chairman Ernie Kuhlman said that amounts to  “a big move” that makes him a bit nervous.
“I see where it may have to happen, but I don’t like doing it,” Kuhlman said. “It was passed by voters for historic preservation.”
Tookey also told the commissioners that the assessor’s office and treasurer’s office are saving more than $20,000 a year by switching their property tax software to a system run by Pueblo County and shared with smaller counties in the state.
As far as personnel, Tookey said the proposed budget includes a salary increase of about 2 percent across the board, except for elected officials, whose salaries are set by the state Legislature.
Tookey noted the county is now paying some $8,000 a month for health insurance, and that is just for a health savings account plan with a $2,600 deductible.
Tookey said the county is on track to come in $50,000 under budget for spending in 2009, but it won’t be a windfall.
“Every dollar we can save between now and the end of the year helps us for our beginning fund balance for 2010,” Tookey said. He said that just because county departments are coming in under budget doesn’t mean they are in a hurry to spend their allocated money by the end of the year.
“You budget what you think you need, and you only spend what you have to.” Tookey said. “We’re not going to penalize (departments) for coming in under budget.”
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