2012 Mesa County budget: Operational spending down, capital spending up

Mesa County will continue to cut spending for operations in 2012 to accommodate an expected decline in property tax revenues.
Spending for capital projects will increase, however, along with an anticipated gain in sales tax revenues.
The Mesa County commissioners approved general fund and capital budgets that total nearly $90.5 million for the coming year.
The overall budget, which also includes a number of smaller funds and internal transfers, totals almost $148.6 million, a 1 percent increase over the 2011 adopted budget.
The 2012 general fund budget for operational expenses tops $55.3 million for a 3 percent decrease from 2011 and a third straight year of reduced spending. Between the 2009 and 2012 budgets, the county has cut more than $22 million from its net budget.
“We are building a smaller, more flexible government organization,” said Mesa County Commissioner Janet Rowland. “In order to streamline our business processes to be even more efficient, our focus is on teamwork and cross-training. This will allow us to continue providing high-priority services to the people in our communities.”
The latest cut comes in anticipation of a $3 million decrease in property tax revenues related to lower property values.
Every county department will reduce spending as well as implement ways to provide services at lower costs, said Mesa County Administrator Chantal Unfug. “We’re using a comprehensive, balanced approach to find ways to save money. We continue to consolidate county functions and facilities, find more efficient business practices and reduce redundancies. We’re also increasing our collaboration within the organization and with other entities, holding open vacancies and eliminating positions where we can without significantly impacting our services to citizens.”
Merit- and market-based salary increases for county employees will be suspending for a third straight year under the 2012 budget, although no benefit reductions are planned.
Staffing is projected to total the equivalent of nearly 962 full-time positions, a decrease of four from 2011 and almost 70 since 2009.
“This year we worked very hard to avoid another big decrease in staff numbers,” Unfug said. “County employees are taking on additional duties and working harder than ever to be more efficient. In order to minimize any service reductions for residents, we need to make sure we have the appropriate staffing levels.”
Commissioner Steve Aquafresca said the general fund budget makes the best of a challenging situation. “As with the last two years, not everything that I would like to see in the budget is there. But it’s a responsible budget that allows us to preserve essential services for our residents.”
Even as general fund spending will decrease under the 2012 budget, capital fund spending will increase more than 23 percent to more than $35.1 million.
The increased budget anticipates increased revenue from a voter-approved sales tax.
Half of the 2 percent sales tax Mesa County assesses is earmarked for a capital fund used to pay for the construction of bridges, buildings, roads and other large projects. Of the remaining 1 percent of sales tax revenues, 0.45 percent goes into the general fund and 0.55 percent goes back to cities and towns in the county.
“In 2012, we’ll be putting millions of dollars to work in our community through important infrastructure projects,” said Commissioner Craig Meis.
Meanwhile, the county will maintain what Unfug described as a “healthy” balance in its general fund, reserves that could be tapped if circumstances dramatically change. “It’s important to maintain the fiscal health of the county organization to ensure we can continue to provide important services to our community for many years to come.”