County replacing reallocated muni money
Garfield County towns won’t lose out on county money despite commissioners’ decision to shift property tax revenue away from the earmarked road and bridge fund.
After some initial alarm from municipal governments, commissioners said Tuesday they would backfill money to municipalities that normally would have been shared from the road and bridge fund.
The downturn in natural gas production is driving an anticipated $17 million decrease in property tax revenue for Garfield County next year.
County commissioners are tapping into what normally would have been restricted reserves by shifting money from the road and bridge fund into the general fund, freeing that money for other uses.
After hearing from department heads on capital requests Tuesday, the board pared down the amount to be pulled from reserves to $6 million and has arrived at a balanced 2017 budget.
The county has built up road and bridge reserves to about $31 million, and commissions have said this decision follows substantial investments into the fund over recent years.
A portion of the money allocated to roads and bridges must be divided among municipalities.
The commissioners now plan to replace that money the municipalities would have received with grants that will continue to fund the municipalities at 2016 levels, about $410,000 in total.
The municipalities rely on that money for their own street maintenance.
Carbondale is receiving $94,000 this year, and Rifle expects to receive about $90,000. Parachute received $50,000 last year through the road and bridge allocation.
“That 90,000 we’re talking about for 2017 sounds like a small amount of money,” said Matt Sturgeon, Rifle’s city manger. But the city’s general fund is tight and the council would have to make some tough decisions without it.
Sturgeon and Jay Harrington, Carbondale town manager, showed up at the county’s Tuesday budget hearing, urging the commissioners to backfill that lost money to the municipalities.
Commissioner John Martin put the grant idea forward, and Commissioner Mike Samson supported it. But Commissioner Tom Jankovksy did not favor giving the municipalities grants to make up for the loss.
The county is not receiving an increase in revenues while the municipalities are, and the county is not going to be able to go to the state to request funds, he said.
He said that the municipalities “always have their hands out,” and “at some point it’s just not an entitlement.”
“We have to live within our means,” said Jankovsky, who pointed out the county’s own tight budget. He was concerned about the precedent these grants would set beyond 2017.
Though he was in favor of grants to help the municipalities in 2017, Martin said, “next year may be a whole different animal.”
As part of the 2017 budget, the grants won’t be finalized until the budget is approved, which is scheduled for Nov. 18.
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