Mesa County budget cuts continue

Declining tax revenues have forced Mesa County officials to extend budget cuts for another year.

The proposed 2011 budget comes in at 10.3 percent below the adopted 2010 budget, which in turn was 8.4 percent less than the 2009 budget.

The proposed 2011 budget includes staffing reductions, a salary freeze, the closure of some county branch offices and reduced funding for what are called community partners.

Acting County Administrator Stefani Conley said the proposed budget reflects declining revenues, but also a commitment to continued services. “Unfortunately, we do not see this as a short-term dip in revenues,” Conley said. “This budget needs to position us to continue serving the people in our communities over the long haul — providing the results they want and need from their county government.”

Mesa County Commissioner Craig Meis agreed. “We’re working to come up with a responsible long-term plan for our community. We want our 2011 budget to help ensure that the county can continue providing important services — not just next year, but for many years to come.”

The 2011 budget won’t be finalized until December. But the proposed net 2011 budget totals nearly $127.3 million, a 10.3 percent decrease from the 2010 adopted budget of almost $142 million.

For reports filed through August of 2010, Mesa County reported a total of $21.68 million in sales and use tax revenues, a more than 12 percent drop from the same period last year.

Conley said county revenues are projected to decease 8 percent in 2011 from what was included in the net adopted 2010 budget. The projection includes decreases in five specific areas: sales and use taxes, down 11 percent; property taxes, down 3 percent; specific ownership taxes, down 22 percent; payments in lieu of taxes on federally owned lands, down 80 percent; and other departmental revenues, down 19 percent. Property tax revenues are expected to decline further in 2012 because of falling home values.

“While falling revenues have made spending reductions necessary both this year and last year, we’ve worked hard to ensure that our important services and projects will continue,” Conley said.

To cope with declining tax revenues, each county department was asked to suggest ways to reduce spending with the least effects on services.

Cost-cutting measures in the 2011 budget include a total net decrease of 45 county positions across 11 departments. Some of the positions are already vacant. And some employees will have an opportunity to apply for other positions. It’s expected that about 30 employees will be directly affected by the cuts.

In addition, county employees will receive no salary increases, but will pay increased premiums for health insurance. The county will eliminate its match for voluntary employee retirement accounts.

The county will close some branch offices, while changing hours and service levels for some departments. Departments also will be expected to collaborate to find efficiencies.

Mesa County also will reduce its funding for community partners, including the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, Museum of Western Colorado and Orchard Mesa swimming pool.