2015 Larimer County budget will be bolstered by reserve funds

Using guidelines specified by the board of commissioners, Larimer County Manager Linda Hoffmann has released a proposed county budget for 2015.

The board developed an overall strategy intended to lead to a balanced budget by 2017 and still meet the board’s objectives in the interim. These include maintaining employee compensation at the compensation goal, considering additional funding proposals that would benefit the community, addressing required 2015 elements of the 2013-2018 Strategic Plan, making sure reserves are properly designated for future projects and services, and providing for replacement of equipment, assets and software important for the efficient operation of county services.

The board authorized an average 2 percent increase in county support towards 2015 budgets resulting in the need to use between $3 million and $5 million in General Fund reserves in 2015 to continue operations.

The 2015 budget still carries $5 million in High Park Fire recovery costs and while help from state and federal sources is being sought, the county expects unreimbursed expenses for the 2013 flood to total $12 million to $15 million. If the economy of Northern Colorado continues with modest improvement, and the county uses some reserves in 2015 and 2016, a balanced budget will be achieved in 2017.

The 2015 proposed net budget of $225,717,568 represents a 4.3 percent increase from 2014 and the total 2015 budget of $363,778,426 represents a 14.5 percent increase from last year’s proposed budget. This year’s figure represents a 1.3 percent decrease from last year’s revised net budget. However, this figure is a 4.3 percent decrease from the revised 2014 total.

“Our challenge is limited revenue and a growing demand for community services,” Hoffmann said. Natural disasters, limited property tax growth and expiring sales taxes are causing budget restrictions the board must confront. As they seek to support the most important needs of the community, they included funds for Wellness Court, partnerships in economic development, a biennial citizen survey, marijuana prevention programs for teens, a radio tower to enhance communication and a 2015 annual community report.

Approximately 25 percent of property taxes are allocated to the county’s General Fund. In recent years, flat property tax plus an increasing percentage of funds allocated to tax increment financing (up to 4.2 percent for 2015) are constraining the county budget, according to Hoffmann.

Since the downturn of 2007, revenues have remained essentially flat, but the county has managed the budget without imposing reductions in level of service to citizens. During this time state and federal sources of revenue for Human Services, the Workforce Center and Criminal Justice have fluctuated and any increases have not been sufficient to meet demands. Fire and flood disasters in 2012 and 2013 will have budget ramifications for the next two to three years and overall will reflect $78 million in costs.

The county has raised fees for parks, 4-H and alternative sentencing programs and relies on grants for several other programs. Three small sales tax increases have supported the jail, open space and The Ranch, but these expire between the end of 2014 and 2019. If they are not renewed, there will be additional strain on the General Fund.

The Public Health, Human Services and Road and Bridge departments have been depleting reserve funds during the past few years. “Service levels in these areas will drop drastically if other funding is not found to support them,” Hoffmann said.

An in-depth look at the budget is available online at www.larimer.org/budget and copies are available at the Larimer County Budget Office, 200 W. Oak St., and at local public libraries. The Budget Adoption Hearing is set for Thursday, Dec. 18 at 2:30 p.m. in the first floor hearing room, County Offices Building, 200 W. Oak. St., Fort Collins

Residents can comment on the budget by attending a hearing in person, Nov. 17 at 6:30 p.m. at the County Offices Building, 200 W. Oak St., first floor hearing room or Nov. 20 at 6:30 p.m. at the Estes Park Municipal Building, Board Chambers, 170 MacGregor Ave. Watch these proceedings Nov. 17 Fort Collins/Cable Channel 14, Loveland/Cable Channel 16, Wellington, LaPorte, North County/Cable Channel 16 (or stream Fort Collins Hearing at: http//Larimer.org/bccbroadcast.cfm). Telephone in during the live hearing Nov. 17 only to 970-498-7016.

It is also possible to e-mail the county commissioners at BOCC@larimer.org or write to them at PO Box 1190, Fort Collins, CO 80522.

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