To save pennies as revenue streams take a nosedive, La Plata County officials are considering a possible reduction of cellphone stipends and county-provided phones for employees.
The proposal is just one of multiple money-saving strategies that county officials will float to commissioners next month in an attempt to close the gap on a $7.2 million deficit.
“We’ve looked at the market and what others provide, and we’re working on a new stipend policy,” County Manager Joe Kerby said. “We’re analyzing who receives stipends and how much.”
The county has a mixed model for phone reimbursement, including stipends for some employees and shared phones for others.
In addition to a potential reduction, Kerby said the county will reassess cellphone reimbursement annually.
Staff members will bring more specifics as well as other cost-saving recommendations to commissioners in February.
Commissioners adopted a $77.5 million budget in December with a grim footnote: an expected 26 percent reduction in money to cover expenditures. The fiscal strain on the horizon is a combined result of a state rule that could lower residential property taxes in Colorado, the energy industry bust and consequent decline in severance tax revenue, and two failed mill levy proposals, which voters rejected last November.
As officials search for ways to cut costs this year, they admit that could translate to everyday annoyances and diminished services to residents.
“We could, for example, reduce the miles of county roads we snowplow,” Kerby said.
The county opted not to fill vacant positions this year, which could translate to longer wait times, whether that’s for a call-back from county staff or a longer line at the county clerk’s office.
Local public service agencies also might have to look elsewhere for support. Typically the county dedicates about $250,000 to local nonprofits, but, Kerby said staff is analyzing whether the county can afford to allocate money to those groups going forward.
Several recent and pending revisions to county policies, including the land-use code, marijuana regulations, animal control policy and building codes, also have strained staff time, which calls for further evaluation, Kerby said.
Commissioners were advised by staff during 2017 budget discussions last fall to “aggressively pursue” a use tax, marijuana excise tax and impact fees to fill the hold left by plunging property tax revenue and failed mill levy increases.
On Tuesday, officials met with the county finance committee to discuss the potential implementation of a use tax, which would apply to motor vehicles and/or construction materials with multiple allowable exceptions.
Voters have opposed a use tax three times over the past 35 years: in 1982, 1990 and 2001, and each time the measure failed by more than 50 percent.
Using data provided by the county clerk’s office, County Finance Director Diane Sorensen said a 2 percent use tax on motor vehicles in 2015 would have produced an estimated $1.36 million.
As commissioners weighed the option, which will be discussed again in future meetings, they noted that county voters have historically voiced a definitive “no” to tax increases as a means of making up for revenue shortfalls.
“I’m tired of trying to fix things with taxes and having voters say, ‘No,’” Commission Chairwoman Julie Westendorff said. “What I don’t want is the perception that we’ll just keep running tax measures until one wins. I want to figure out what is the best approach.”