Larimer County’s 2014 proposed budget reflects added expenses for two major disasters and a off-year general election.
“Right now we’re struggling with how the county will come up with the necessary funds,” County Budget Manager Bob Keister said.
He explained that state and federal assistance comes into play when a fire, such as High Park, is deemed too large for a local area to handle. Firefighting costs are absorbed by the state or federal government. The county has set aside $5 million for its share and $3.5 million to help with recovery and mitigation.
With a flood it is different. No state or federal entity steps into to take over and pay for operations. Instead the county must do the necessary work and then wait for reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and from the state. FEMA covers 75 percent of costs and the state pays 12.5 percent, leaving the county responsible for the remaining 12.5 percent. The county estimates flood recovery costs will run about $100 million.
Keister said some reserve funds may be needed to complete road and bridge reconstruction on county roads. The county will not be responsible for reconstruction of U.S. 34 in Big Thompson Canyon into Estes Park. County road and bridge work in 2014 is likely to be four to five times greater than normal.
The overall strategy for developing the 2014 budget was to maintain current services and funding for most county services and to insert an average 2 percent increase in county support to make up for reductions in the 2010 to 2013 budgets. This action is a modification to a three-year budget reduction plan to absorb a jail sales and use tax expiring at the end of 2015.
In November 2011, voters rejected a proposal to extend the tax, which forced across-the-board reductions in the the 2013 budget. If the economy of northern Colorado continues a modest annual improvement and the county uses small amounts of its reserves in 2015 and 2016, a balanced budget will be possible by 2017. In the interim, before property tax revenues rise from the 2015 reappraisals, the county will operate at a deficit. Property tax is predicted to increase by 1.8 percent in 2014.
Unlike the 2013 budget, few capital improvements are included in the proposed 2014 budget. County services such as the landfill, building permit services, restaurant inspections, community corrections programs, human services needs and county parks continue to be funded in whole or part by fees and grants and are therefore are not dependent on the County for all or part of their funding.
The 2014 proposed operating budget allots 28 percent ($63.2 million) for Public Safety, 26 percent ($57.8 million) for Health and Economic Services, 25 percent ($56.45 million) for Community Resources, Infrastructure and Planning Services, 15% ($34.2 million) for Strategic Leadership and Administrative Services, and 6 percent ($14.9 million) for Public Records and Information Services. Note that Strategic Leadership and Administrative Services include the County Manager category, responsible for flood recovery. Funding for this area is up 102.2 percent for 2014.
The total net operating budget proposed for 2014 is $226.4 million and represents a 6.8 percent decrease from the revised 2013 operational budget. The total budget for 2014, which includes non-operational governmental accounts is $314.8 million, a 10.8 percent decrease from the revised total 2013 budget.
Budget revisions are typically made during the course of the year as circumstances change and incoming revenues fluctuate.
The proposed budget is posted in detail on the county’s website: larimer.org. Comments are welcome at hearings scheduled to review the proposed budget at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 18 at the Larimer County Courthouse office building, 200 W. Oak St., first floor Commissioners Hearing Room and televised on Fort Collins Cable Channel 14, on Channel 16 in Laporte and Wellington and on cable channel 16 in Loveland Berthoud. A hearing in Estes Park is planned for Nov. 21. Phone comments are welcome at 970-498-7016. Email comments as welcome as well.
The budget will be considered for adoption at 2 p.m. Dec. 19 at the Larimer County Courthouse office building.