Samson: Garfield in best fiscal shape of any Colo. county |

Samson: Garfield in best fiscal shape of any Colo. county

John Colson
Post Independent staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Garfield County is in the best fiscal shape of any county in Colorado, and is in the top 10 among counties around the U.S., thanks to the enviable presence of full year’s worth of reserves in the bank, according to County Commissioner Mike Samson.

He mentioned the county’s fiscal status in his comments at the county Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner a week ago. He noted that people in Garfield County have many things to be thankful for, and cited the county government’s fiscal health as the example.

Samson said he heard the comparison from people with Colorado Counties, Inc., the statewide organization of county governments, when he and fellow Commissioner John Martin traveled to Washington, D.C., for the 2011 National Association of Counties conference, in early March.

Samson said the claim makes sense to him, since the county has reserve fund balances of more than $100 million, which is enough to meet the county’s expenses for a year.

“To my knowledge, there’s nobody else in the state that comes close,” he mused. “Well, maybe Weld County, they might come close to us,” naming another county that has a high concentration of energy companies drilling natural-gas wells and the revenues that come with that industrial activity.

Both Garfield and Weld counties report that a large portion of their property tax revenues come from the oil and gas industry.

In Weld County, according to the 2010-2014 Budget Plan available on the county’s website, oil and gas production facilities made up nearly half of the county’s assessed value for the 2010 budget year.

In Garfield County, the industry accounts for nearly 75 percent of the county’s total assessed value, a figure that may drop by as much as 30 percent in the coming year, according to county budget projections.

Garfield County’s reserves, according to county officials, are projected to continue to grow slightly in the coming couple of years, despite the ongoing slump in the gas industry.

According to the county’s adopted budget for 2011, the reserve fund balances are expected to drop to slightly less than $100 million by the end of the year.

But revised projections now predict that the reserves will be at $103 million by the end of 2011, said county manager Ed Green. The reserves will continue to grow slightly in the next couple of years, he said, even as revenues shrink due to a lowering of the county’s assessed property valuations as a consequence of the ongoing recession.

The increases in the reserves, he said, are in part due to the county’s austerity measures, including a decision to not fill vacancies in most departments. That is yielding a savings of 5 to 10 percent compared to the adopted county budget.

Other cutbacks in operational costs, Green said, will help keep the reserves healthy over the next five years.

Green told the Post Independent that about half of the county’s reserve fund is the result of oil and gas activities since 2004, coming in the form of mineral severance taxes and federal mineral lease fees distributed to the counties most affected by oil and gas activities.

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