Garfield County expects property tax revenues to reach $71.5M in 2010 |

Garfield County expects property tax revenues to reach $71.5M in 2010

John Colson
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

Garfield County is expecting to reap a record $71.5 million in property tax revenues next year, compared to $44.5 million in 2009, according to figures submitted to the board of county commissioners this week.

The increase is attributed to increased property values throughout the region over the past decade, a trend that came to an abrupt halt last year when the economies of the world went into decline.

Because property tax calculations involve a two-year lag time, the tax revenues now being calculated for 2010 reflect property values from 2008, a time when the economy was still booming.

By 2011, according to County Assessor John Gorman, property tax revenues will begin to reflect the beginning of the recession, and by 2012 the full impact will be felt. Sales taxes, which also are expected to plummet for 2010, account for only 7.5 percent of the county’s general fund budget.

Given all this, County Manager Ed Green advised the county commissioners on Sept. 16 that there is a need to build up a considerable financial cushion against hard times to come.

“We put a lot of money into the general fund,” Green said of the proposed 2010 budget, adding that “for the most part … the departments did a great job” of holding to the 2-percent increase in expenditures called for by the commissioners.

For the general fund, which covers most of the county’s operating expenses, the amount left in the fund at the end of 2010 is projected at nearly $21.2 million, compared to an estimated ending balance of $16.8 million for the current year.

Another significant bump in year-end balance projections is for the road and bridge department, which is expected to finish out 2009 with more than $12.5 million in reserve. That year-end balance for 2010, according to estimates provided by the finance department, are expected to decline slightly, to approximately $11.5 million.

The third big fund in the county’s ledger is the oil and gas mitigation fund, which started the year in 2009 at nearly $5.9 million but is expected to finish at more than $17.4 million, thanks to a huge influx of money from mineral severance taxes and mineral lease fees associated with Colorado’s natural gas boom.

The money comes from payments made by energy companies to the state, a large portion of which is doled out to the most heavily affected counties by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. This year Garfield County received more than $11.6 million, roughly twice the county’s most optimistic expectation, according to Green.

With an estimated $3 million projected to come into the fund in 2010, according to the finance department, the county could end up with more than $20 million by the end of 2010.

The reserves in the county’s capital expenditures fund also are expected to grow slightly over the course of the coming year, from a little more than $15 million at the end of 2009 to a little more than $18 million by the end of 2010.

After the end of next year, however, county officials are expecting revenues to fall off by 20 percent or more, thanks to the ongoing recession and the drop in oil and gas exploration activities across the west.

When County Commissioner John Martin suggested some of the county’s mineral impact mitigation windfall be doled out to those who pay property taxes, in the form of reductions by $100 from each bill, commissioner Tresi Houpt resisted the notion.

The money, she said, “really is specifically for oil and gas mitigation,” to be used for maintaining county staffing levels, performing environmental repairs or working on the county’s stressed out roads.

And, she pointed out, “the DOLA grants are going away” thanks to the collapse of the gas drilling boom.

The commissioners will be having further meetings about the departmental proposals leading up to a formal presentation of the proposed budget as a whole in mid-October, with final adoption scheduled for December.

Among other decisions, the commissioners have yet to vote on giving a cost-of-living raise to county employees. That decision is expected to be made late in December or perhaps in January, once the final revenue picture is more clearly understood.

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