Larimer County's 2014 budget strives to maintain current levels of funding and service

Based on the Larimer County Board of County Commissioners’ priorities and direction, Larimer County Manager Linda Hoffmann released the proposed Larimer County budget for 2014 on Oct. 15.

The net operating budget of $226,378,505 proposed for 2014, represents a 6.8 percent decrease from the 2013 revised net operating budget of $242,839,023. The proposed 2014 total county budget is $314,836,446, a 10.8 percent drop from the revised 2013 total county budget of $352,984,737.

The current (2013) operating and total budgets were revised due to several factors. The county commissioners allocated $12 million to the 2013 budget to support response and recovery from September’s catastrophic flood event and ongoing recovery efforts for the High Park Fire are also reflected in the revised 2013 budget. Also adding to the revised budget were additional revenues from grants, sales taxes, and new building and permit fees; unspent funds from 2012 were added to the 2013 budget for the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office projects; and construction projects planned by Larimer County Road and Bridge in 2013 were delayed and are now projected to occur in the next two years.

The 2014 Proposed Operating Budget follows guidelines established by the county commissioners. It strives to maintain current levels of funding and service for most county services. Unlike the 2013 budget, few capital improvement projects are included. Many county services continue to be funded in whole or in part by fees and grants. Some notable examples include the landfill, building permit services, restaurant inspections, community corrections programs, human services needs, and county parks. Two dedicated sales taxes that currently support county Natural Resources/Open Space programs and The Ranch may expire in 2018 and 2019. Property tax revenues that make up the bulk of the county’s general fund are projected to increase by 1.8 percent.

Hoffmann’s recommendations include four investment proposals including an additional staff member in Larimer County Veterans Services and contributions to several projects proposed by the District Attorney. Some restructuring of undesignated general fund reserves is also proposed to establish savings accounts for software upgrades and replacements, existing county facilities major maintenance, future disasters, and other purposes. Additional investments in the county’s strategic leadership team and training are also proposed to increase government transparency for the community, manage disaster recovery efforts, and streamline administrative functions.

• The Adopted 2013 budget represented near across-the-board reductions because in November 2011, voters rejected a proposal to extend an existing sales tax that supports operation of the county-wide jail.

That sales tax will expire at the end of 2014. Projections for future budget years indicate that in 2015 when the jail sales tax is lost, and before property tax revenues rise from the 2015 reappraisal, the county will be operating in a deficit. Sufficient reserves must be available to bridge that gap in order to avoid deep cuts in department budgets and services. No sales tax revenue goes into the county’s general fund.

• The primary source of revenue for the county’s general fund is property tax. Most of the property tax collected by the county is distributed to other entities, most notably school districts, with portions also going to municipalities and special districts. The county’s share is approximately 25 percent of the total property tax collected. In recent years, Larimer County has seen a steady increase in the use of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) for municipal urban renewal projects. As the use of tax increment financing expands, growth of the county’s primary source of discretionary revenue could be jeopardized.

The public is invited to comment on the budget and there are several ways to do that: attend a hearing; watch a hearing on cable television or streamed on the Internet; Email or call in comments via Internet and telephone to the live TV hearings; send in written comments. Here are details:

Fort Collins Hearing – Monday, Nov. 18 – 6:30 p.m. on cable TV channels 14 in Fort Collins and 16 in Berthoud. The hearing takes place in Fort Collins at 200 West Oak St., 1st floor Hearing Room. Viewers can call-in comments at 970-498-7016, and email in questions at BOCC@larimer.org and listen to the Internet stream at: http://larimer.org/bcc/broadcast.cfm. The public is encouraged to attend.

Estes Park Hearing – Thursday, Nov. 21 – 6:30 p.m. – on cable TV channel 12 in Estes Park. The hearing takes place at the Estes Park Municipal Bldg., Board Chambers, 170 MacGregor Ave. Viewers can email in questions or comments during the hearing at BOCC@larimer.org. The public is encouraged to attend.

Other methods to get budget input to the Board of County Commissioners:

E-mail the County Commissioners at BOCC@larimer.org
Write the Commissioners at: PO Box 1190, Fort Collins, CO 80522
Phone the Commissioners at: 970-498-7010

Copies of the 2014 Proposed Budget are available at the Larimer County Budget Office, 200 West Oak Street, Fort Collins, Colorado (phone 498-7017). Copies are also sent to local public libraries, local radio & television stations and local newspapers. The Budget Adoption Hearing is set for Thursday, December 19 at 2p.m. in the 1st floor hearing Room at 200 West Oak St., Fort Collins.

You can view the Proposed Budget at larimer.org/budget.

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