2012 county budget 2.9 percent lower than 2011

Larimer County is facing the same economic reality as its citizens — rising costs and decreasing income. As a result, County Manager Frank Lancaster has proposed a budget that cuts spending at all levels for next year.

Overall, the 2012 gross proposed budget of $301,559,468 is down 2.9 percent from the budget adopted by the Board of County Commissioners for 2011. In addition to only partial funding for a number of programs, the proposed budget cuts payroll by 18.4 county workers. The reductions will come from attrition, according to Lancaster.
On the revenue side, the assessed value of property in the county has declined 2 percent from 2010, and interest income plummeted to $900,000 from $3.4 million in 2010.

When the budget was released Oct. 14, Lancaster said that it focuses resources to the highest priority services while limiting requests for supplemental funding.
“Based on current and projected economic conditions, we will all have to do more with less,” he said. “It was the expectation that all departments and services be as imaginative and creative as possible, focusing on becoming more efficient and streamlined in delivering their services.”

The budget is developed following the Budgeting for Outcomes model. The weighted scale produces a priority ranking for every service funded by the county.

The three county commissioners each looks at the every budget item and scores it according to three important criteria, county budget manager Bob Keister said. The scores then are reconciled to create the relative ranking.

“The highest priority goes to those things that are mandated by law at a specified level,” Keister said. He used elections as an example.

“We can’t say we won’t hold an election or give voters only half a ballot because we don’t have enough money,” he explained, adding that some human service programs and operations at some public facilities also fall into this category. “These are things that society thinks are so important that they passed a statute that says we must do them.”

County services that are considered critical for basic health, safety and welfare are also given extra weight in the rankings, as do programs that embody the county’s values of partnering and collaboration, Keister added.

The next step down the scale are those functions that are mandated, but at no specified level. The county must register motor vehicles and assess property values, for example, but it has discretion over how much money to spend on accomplishing the tasks, Keister explained.

The lowest priority is given to those items that are not mandated by law but that the county does “for the good of the citizens,” Keister said. “We don’t have to have 4-H or operate The Ranch, but county residents have told us, in our biennial surveys, that those are things that are important to them.”

In the 2012 proposed budget, the highest priority programs took a 1.5 percent reduction, while those in the middle were reduced 2.5 percent and the bottom tier were cut 4 percent.

Budget breakdown

The largest portion of the proposed budget — nearly $62 million — is allocated to public safety, including law enforcement, emergency rescue and fire-fighting as well as the county detention center.

Health and well-being — environmental health and food safety, health services for seniors, the disabled, mothers and children as well as mental health services — would receive $47.2 million.

Another $27 million of the budget would fund transportation projects, including road and bridge maintenance, stormwater and drainage, and rural road safety and improvements.

Environment and natural resources, encompassing everything from the county landfill to parks and trails and the fairgrounds complex at The Ranch in Loveland, would be supported with $18.8 million. Many programs in this category generate income from their operations.

General government services — such things as vehicle registrations, property tax assessments and elections — also generate some of their own funds, and would receive $14.8 million under the proposed budget.

The budget categories of Jobs & Economic Vitality – the county Workforce Center and related programs – and Preparing for Growth – land-use management – would receive a total of $8 million.

About $1.5 million is set to go into the county’s general fund reserve, bringing that total to $30 million at the end of 2012, according to Lancaster.

Jail sales tax

The fate of the continuation of a sales tax to operate the county jail will determine what future budgets look like. Lancaster said if the measure on the Nov. 1 ballot does not pass, the county will be forced to make deeper cuts in 2013 and cut an additional $14 million in 2014.

“That means some services are likely to go away entirely,” he said.
Which services those might be will be a community-wide decision. “That’s what we will all be talking about for most of 2013, and it won’t be easy,” Lancaster said.

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