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$1.5 million in cuts proposed for county

Staff Writer

In front of a room packed mostly with county employees on Tuesday, County Attorney and Interim County Administrator Todd Starr suggested about $1.5 million in budget cuts to the Board of County Commissioners.

The proposed reductions, which Starr was instructed to provide, would be split between 2013 and 2014.

The proposal is in response to declining property tax revenues, as well as other declining revenue sources, that will leave the county with a significantly smaller budget in 2014, with Starr stating that the county had come through its self-imposed financial crisis, but was beginning a statutorily-imposed financial crisis.

Starr presented the cuts at a work session at which no public comment was allowed.

Starr began by stating that, when the board adopted the county’s 2013 budget it, “expressly directed to start looking at expenditures.”

Commissioner Clifford Lucero reiterated what Starr said, noting that, “You’ve done what we asked and I appreciate that.”

Starr said he studied the entire General Fund budget, evaluating each department in the General Fund using a, “carefully selected” set of criteria.

Through that study, Starr suggested cutting $191,903 from the 2013 budget and $376,150 from the 2014 budget.

The bulk of the $1.5 million reduction, according to Starr’s proposal, would come from trimming 1A expenses in the amount of $590,355 and 1A-related capital outlay in the amount of $436,324 — both reductions potentially taking place in 2014. Starr said that would create a reduction in the overall budget because there is no revenue still filtering into 1A.

The total potential savings proposed by Starr are $1,594,737.

Starr said the criteria used to evaluate each General Fund department include statutory requirements on the BoCC, the internal support effort required to maintain the department, the external impact of the department on the community, the drain on funds from the General Fund, the amount of external funding used to leverage funds, and other aspects such as department turnover.

Missing from the evaluation, Starr said, was consideration of future capital outlay needs (such as a new roof for the courthouse), consideration of other funds outside the General Fund, and a process that would allow each department to speak to the proposal.

Also missing was a look at additional requirements placed on the county through the actions of prior boards, intergovernmental agreements, grants and more.

Starr also stated he would leave the political considerations to the BoCC.

The process, Starr said, is more important that the specific cuts proposed, and he said he intended to propose cuts that would do the least amount of harm, while structuring the county for long-term success.

He also noted that elected officials, while given a total budget for their office, can do what they want within that budget.

Starr then delved into the proposed cuts, as follows.

• For the airport, Starr determined that there was no requirement to fund an airport, that internal support requirements are moderate, the drain on the General Fund is high, and that leveraging of funds is at 43 percent.

Stating that the direct impact of the airport to the community is very high and that the airport has been proven to be a, “significant economic stimulus,” Starr proposed cutting $6,000 in 2014, with the trim proposed to come from a reduction of FAA-funded activity and less travel.

Starr also noted that, after 2014, the current annual debt of the airport (annual payments of $352,909) would end.

• For the commissioners, Starr determined that the BoCC is “buried” in statutory requirements, requires a high internal support effort, has a high impact on the community, is a significant drain on the General Fund and does not leverage funding.

Starr proposed cutting all non-profit contributions in 2013 and 2014, saving $49,200 per year.

Starr also suggested that the county take a closer look at amounts budgeted for outside organizations, such as the $40,000 budget to AXIS, a mental health company.

• For the assessor’s office, after listing his evaluation, Starr proposed reducing the office by one full-time equivalent (FTE), with the position to be identified by the assessor.

That reduction, Starr said, would save $22,500 in 2013 and $45,000 in 2014 and each year after.

• For the attorney’s office, Starr said the drain on the General Fund is $229,800.

With the idea that retaining an in-house attorney has proven to be less expensive for the county over the years, Starr proposed that $5,000 be cut from the office in 2013 and $10,000 be cut in 2014.

• In the discussion of the clerk’s office, Starr stated that fees received by the department means there is no drain on the General Fund.

However, Starr said, “the key consideration is the apparent overstaffing of the department,” with Starr emphasizing the word “apparent.”

Starr said it is not necessary for there to be no wait time for customers, but that the board would have to consider what wait times are allowable.

Starr, then, considered cutting one FTE, which would create $22,500 in savings in 2013 and $45,000 in savings in 2014 and each following year.

• At the CSU-Extension office, Starr proposed cutting one FTE, which would save $17,500 in 2013 and $35,000 each following year.

• In discussing senior services, Starr suggested working with the town to reduce rent for the seniors services office due to the number of town residents using the service, which he anticipated could save $26,000 in 2014.

• For the Emergency Management Department of the sheriff’s office, Starr suggested cutting one FTE, which would save $12,816 in 2013 and $25,633 in future years.

• Within the patrol function of the sheriff’s office, Starr proposed reducing the department by one FTE, saving $21,000 in 2013 and $52,000 in future years.

• Starr proposed cutting the entire transportation department (which runs the Mountain Express bus system), and suggested considering taking the Department of Human Services transportation vouchers to give the neediest citizens.

• In the Veteran Services Office, Starr suggested following a pre-existing plan that would cut one-third of an FTE.

In addition to his proposed cuts, which would, if approved by the board, take place midyear, Starr spoke of savings realized in the Road and Bridge Department through the reduction of the magnesium chloride purchases by $100,000.

If continued next year, Starr suggested that $200,000 could be transferred to the General Fund, but would require a modification of the general and road and bridge mill levies.

With the presentation complete, the commissioners noted the overall need for budget discussions to start early, and discussed their concerns with particular cuts proposed by Starr.

“It’s going to be painful, there’s no way around it,” Commissioner Steve Wadley said.

Lucero suggested having an outside party look at the county’s organizational structure and expenditures, stating that he wanted cuts to be fair and balanced.

“I think the process was really good,” Lucero said.

Lucero also suggested the board could take on more responsibility.

As the meeting wound down, Wadley spoke of the need for the commissioners to leave the county in better financial standing than it was in when they took office, stating, “Never trade what you want now for what you want most.”

Next, the commissioners indicated they would hold a meeting with each department to discuss potential cuts.

The meeting ended with grumbling by several members of the audience.

randi@pagosasun.com

This story was posted on March 14, 2013.
  • Martha

    Great, cut transportation….it only took forever to get it now you want to rip it away from the neediest of people, which is everyone that uses it. Mill levy Road and Bridge?…Seriously?..think that’s been done to death…the quality of road maintenance has hit rock bottom….a bunch of clowns running the circus with the tax payers dollars!!!….hey, maybe we can sell a used chair lift!!!

  • InTheDark

    Martha, I agree with you. Especially when the guy proposing the cuts makes well over $100,000 a year! Look at the budget on the County website. It’s crazy! I this we need to demand answers.

    • RGPS

      Would it make you feel better if a $30K county employee made the announcement? There is NO money. Do you want the capable $100K employee to take a big cut and then find another job, leaving us in even worse shape?

  • John

    Very disappointing….

  • John

    Curious about public comment.

  • bs

    How about cutting the county commissioners salaries. Notice how all the cuts being made don’t affect them at all? I love how Wadley says, “this is going to be painful” ha ha. What a joke. They can’t cut his salary or his 27 year old wife will leave him cause he won’t be able to be her sugar daddy anymore.