GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Next year will most likely be pretty lean when it comes to any new Garfield County capital construction projects, major equipment purchases, or funding from the county for special community requests.
That was the message from county commissioners Tuesday after hearing a preliminary 2014 budget forecast that now projects a $15 million decline in property tax revenues for the county compared to this year.
Although final projections won’t be known until August, “The numbers are coming in a little worse than we had originally guessed,” said Ann Driggers, Garfield County’s finance director, during a work session with commissioners.
The county’s assessed property valuation fell about 20 percent after the 2012 re-assessment period. Those new values were reflected in property valuation notices that went out to property owners this spring.
Since the county is unlikely to consider asking voters for a mill levy increase to adjust property taxes accordingly, it will mean a drop in revenues for county government purposes.
County officials were originally hoping that decrease would be only about $10 million. But the property tax revenue number for 2014 is now projected to come in around $38.7 million, compared to $53.7 million this year, Driggers said.
The good news, she said, is that sales taxes are projected to be up through this year and into 2014. And early indications are that there may be a rebound in property taxes in 2015 as natural gas prices continue to rise and drilling activity picks up again.
But if the 2014 budget were similar to 2013, there would not be sufficient yearly revenues to support it, and any capital projects would need to be paid for out of fund balances, Driggers said.
Commissioners want to send the message early that the county will budget accordingly, which means there won’t be a lot of extras in next year’s budget.
“Any capital projects we do next year are just going to be what doesn’t get done this year and gets carried over,” Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said.
Municipalities and other organizations that have sought funding assistance from the county for various projects in the past will be steered toward applying instead for funding through the new Garfield County Federal Mineral Lease District (FMLD), the commissioners also suggested.
“We have been very generous with the municipalities, but I would encourage them to go to the mineral lease district for that kind of money,” Commissioner Mike Samson said. “That’s why it was created, and it’s where they should go for those funds.”
The FMLD oversees federal lease dollars that come back to the county related to resource extraction on federal lands. That money was formerly administered by the county, but has now been turned over to the special district for distribution.
From a county budget standpoint, “I think we can balance the budget without putting a lot of strain on county operations,” Jankovsky added.
He said employee pay raises in the range of 1 percent to 1.5 percent may still be possible. That’s less than what county employees have seen the past two years following multiple years in which there were no raises.
“I’m not saying no raises,” Jankovsky said.
The overall county budget this year is about $100 million, and Garfield County still enjoys a large combined reserve fund totaling more than $100 million. However, only about $33 million of the reserve is “unassigned,” or not earmarked for specific purposes such as road and bridge needs or human services, Driggers said.
County department heads will meet with the county commissioners for a budget “kick-off” meeting on June 19, which is intended to provide direction as they begin the process of preparing departmental budgets for the coming year.
A preliminary 2014 county budget is expected to be ready for review in early to mid-September, followed by a formal budget proposal by Oct. 9. A series of public hearings to consider the budget will be slated in October and November prior to final adoption in December.