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County irons out budget

Carrie Click

After more than four months of meeting with department heads and staff, factoring in property owner focus groups’ input and crunching numbers, Garfield County manager Ed Green and assistant manager Jesse Smith presented the county’s 2005 budget draft at an informal public meeting last week.Green and Smith distributed thick plastic binders – one containing the 2005 budget draft, and a second, 220-page volume filled with budget detail – to attendees, including county staff and commissioners. The hefty binders and detailed budget information inside them show hours of work. “We start in June by having very detailed meetings with each department,” Green said.He said he and Smith have evaluated each submitted budget critically, and that line item expenses have been reduced in all of them. In addition, very few new positions have been proposed, and even fewer presented to commissioners. By the numbersGreen said the county’s 2005 budget is projected to begin with a balance of more than $28 million. More than $48 million in revenue is expected to come into the county, with more than $53 million in expenditures. This will create a deficit of a little more than $5 million, which can primarily be attributed to construction of the new human service building in Rifle, and proposed oil and gas industry studies. This will leave an ending balance of more than $23 million. Green said it’s expected that improved sales tax collections in 2004 will continue in 2005. Property taxes, too, will increase significantly, because of a county re-evaluation of natural gas wells and natural gas product emanating from them.And even though the state continues to reduce revenues to the counties, Green said the cuts are manageable.Budget projectionsBecause county departments have been vigilant about reducing line items, Green said, the county has been able to nearly double its fund balances since 1998.”We’re in very good shape,” he said. Green said fund balances have been able to grow in part because the county’s budgets are created on a line item basis, and if department heads anticipate going above those line item numbers, they must come before the commissioners for approval. In the past six years, Green said, the county has constructed six new buildings and renovated three. All county employee benefits have been upgraded, and employees have received more training. The Garfield County Fair and the Garfield County Landfill have both become successful and solvent, and both heavy equipment and data systems have been replaced. Smith said the budget will be studied to justify all line items during the next two months. He said one-on-one meetings will be scheduled starting Nov. 1 with department heads before the budget is approved and finalized Dec. 14. “There’ll be a little tweaking here and there, but we’re about 90 to 95 percent there,” Green added. Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518cclick@postindependent.com


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