The Montezuma County Board of Commissioners approved a $44 million budget for 2019 that funds a wide variety of services and includes improvement projects.
Total revenues coming in – including property taxes, fees, grants, oil and gas royalties, and state and federal funding – match the total costs of general operations and services, said county administrator Melissa Brunner.
But to balance the budget, the county will dip into reserves to fund an estimated $3 million in special projects. Current county government reserves total $28 million.
“Reserves are only earmarked for special projects and are not being used to fund general operations and services,” Brunner said.
The general fund budget is $12.8 million. It covers 27 departments and includes county commissioners, sheriff and detention, county assessor, county treasurer, county clerk, district attorney and county attorney, administration, fairgrounds, planning, building maintenance, veterans services, senior services, information technology, noxious weeds, emergency management and the county fair.
Other budgets include $8.4 million for the Road and Bridge Department, $14.9 million for Social Services, $2.6 million for Public Health, $1.6 million for the Landfill Enterprise, $962,000 for Fleet Services, $964,000 for the Capital Fund, $784,000 for the Law Enforcement Authority Fund, $166,000 for the Conservation Trust Fund, $604,000 for the Emergency Telephone Service Fund, and $150,000 for the Lodgers Tax Fund.
Revenues have “rebounded” compared with last year, when the county faced $1 million budget cuts, Brunner said. The county’s 10.33 mill levy is expected to bring in $7.3 million for 2019, a $400,000 increase from 2018.
The increase is in part because of increasing property values and a renewed effort by the county assessor to add properties to the tax rolls that were not previously listed.
There were no major changes to department budgets this year, Brunner said. Employees were awarded a 2 percent bonus in the budget, rather than permanent pay raises.
The county has 220 full-time employees.
The budget’s $3 million special project fund will be used to improve parts of County Roads H, 31, P, M, T, BB, G, J, H.6, 27, 25, S, 29, 31, 42, and the Dolores Norwood Road, which will be chip-sealed on the 4-mile gravel portion to the county line. The San Juan National Forest is contributing $500,000.
Other projects include building a new evidence locker for the Sheriff’s Office and replacing the roof on the Montezuma County Detention Center.
Last year, the county pulled almost $7 million from reserves to pay for a combined courthouse that was mandated by the state.
Brunner said the county may be faced with a budget crunch is 2020 because of impacts of Gallagher Amendment that are lowering residential property taxes for the smaller economies of the Western Slope.
Under the Gallagher Amendment, 45 percent of the total amount of state property tax collected must come from residential property, and 55 percent of the property tax collected must come from commercial property.
The Gallagher Amendment mandates that the assessment rate for commercial property, which is responsible for 55 percent of the total state property tax burden, be fixed at 29 percent. The residential rate, on the other hand, is annually adjusted to hold the 45/55 split constant.
Because of rising home values on the Front Range, the residential tax rate was dropped statewide to stay within Gallagher’s ratio requirements. In Montezuma County, the residential tax rate recently dropped from 7.9 percent to 7.2 percent and is expected to drop further in 2020.
To stabilize the budget long-term and keep the current level of services, the county will need to consider approving a sales tax, said Brunner, who is resigning in January to take over as finance director for Montezuma-Cortez School District RE-1.
“Last year’s budget cuts made us realize that a sales tax will allow us to control our own destiny, rather than seeing our property tax revenues drop further because of rising property taxes on the Eastern Slope,” she said.
The sales tax could also help buffer fluctuating local carbon dioxide industry, which provides half the total amount of property taxes collected by all county governments, including school districts and special districts.