Majority of Garfield County’s $81M in reserves not available for general use
Commissioners adopt $101.7M budget for 2021
Garfield County’s “rainy day” reserve funds, as Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes referred to them this week, might best be described as a chance for isolated cloudbursts here and there.
While it’s true that Garfield County government is sitting on a projected $81.8 million in reserves come the end of 2021, County Manager Kevin Batchelder said it’s important to point out that the vast majority of those funds are committed for very specific purposes.
From $43,408 sitting sitting in a special “livestock auction fund” to $16.5 million in the county’s “oil and gas mitigation fund,” most of that unallocated money is either restricted in its use by law, or committed by resolution of the county commissioners, Batchelder explained.
Overall, that $81.8 million is distributed between 19 different funds within the county budget.
Only the general fund reserve — expected to end the coming year with a balance of $23.2 million — is considered “unassigned,” or available to be moved around as needed, Batchelder said.
That’s the most likely reserve fund county commissioners could conceivably tap to help provide local business assistance through the COVID-19 shutdowns, as Mayor Godes suggested to the commissioners this week.
“I’ve been asked by many of my constituents, ‘what has the county done?’,” Godes said. He noted that the city has committed about $750,000 in local business relief funds, and neighboring Eagle County this week dedicated $3 million of its reserves for “bridge grants” to aid small businesses.
“I ask on behalf of our businesses that you commit to match Eagle County and Glenwood Springs to help businesses with the overwhelming challenges they are facing,” Godes said.
The commissioners have allocated several hundred thousand dollars this year to various nonprofit relief agencies in the county, as well as direct assistance for those who don’t qualify for existing government assistance programs.
County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky also commented Wednesday that the commissioners’ decision to allow restaurants and other businesses to operate under looser orange-level restrictions with variances, rather than the state’s red-level COVID-19 designation, is the county’s attempt at economic relief.
Multiple years of declining revenues for the county have resulted in the commissioners’ decision to draw down some of its reserves. What was a $117.9 million overall reserve fund balance in 2017 has dwindled to $92.1 million this year — $10.3 million of which is now allocated for spending in the just-approved 2021 county budget.
That includes a 10% draw-down of the general fund reserve, or $2.5 million, according to budget figures.
“While the general fund is unassigned and allows for some flexibility, it should be noted that these reserves are what support 24 departments that provide essential services to the organization and our community,” Batchelder and County Finance Director Theresa Wagenman said in a joint email response seeking an explanation of the county’s reserves.
That includes a total of 288 full-time and six part-time employees. The Government Finance Officers Association also recommends a reserve with a minimum of 2 months of regular general fund operating revenues or expenditures, they also explained.
“However, a higher level of unrestricted fund balance may be necessary if significant revenue sources are subject to unpredictable fluctuations,” they said. “Garfield County’s primary source of revenue is property tax, which is often subject to the volatility of the oil and gas industry and state regulations.
“Because of this, we have strived to maintain higher levels of unrestricted fund balance in the general fund in order to maintain services levels during years where our tax revenue sees a decline,” they explained.
Beyond the general fund reserves, the remaining $58.6 million in county reserves is locked up for specific purposes. Some of those area-specific funds have been used in the past to address unexpected emergencies and natural disasters.
2021 budget approved
Garfield County commissioners this week gave final approval to an overall $101.7 million budget for 2021, including an $87 million operating budget that is balanced to anticipated revenues, according to a county press release.
The budget for the coming year includes $7.5 million for capital projects and $7.2 million in discretionary expenditures.
County commissioners earlier this year directed staff to cut expenses by 5% in 2021 to adjust for expected revenue declines — mostly related to the ongoing downturn in oil and gas activity in the county.
That resulted in a $5.6 million reduction in expenditures compared to the 2020 county budget. The 2021 budget is estimated to have $203,000 more in operating revenues than budgeted expenditures, according to the release.
Planned capital and discretionary spending is expected to draw down fund balances by $10.3 million, resulting in an overall projected fund balance of $81.8 million at the end of 2021.
Revenues for the coming year are projected at $91.4 million, down an estimated $2.2 million from this year.
Commissioners also asked department heads and elected officials to cut positions through attrition in 2021. That resulted in a 2021 headcount of 496 — 19 fewer than this year.
Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario opted to cut the animal control program from his budget for 2021 and into the future, making up about half of the $1 million in cuts to the Sheriff’s Office budget.
The sheriff’s budget is the largest single line item in the county’s overall $53.3 million general fund, at $19.7 million
Garfield County’s capital budget includes more than $4.1 million for roads and bridges, including $2.16 million for machinery and heavy equipment. Another $2.25 million is budgeted for infrastructure improvements, and $500,000 is budgeted for land purchases and improvements.
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