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County projects spending boost, lagging revenue in 2009

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By AJ Vicens

Jefferson County's projected 2009 budget calls for $395 million in spending, while projecting only $363 million in revenues.

The budget,unveiled Oct. 14, could change by the time the final version is approved in December. The county commissioners will be meeting with elected officials, division heads and the public as they fine-tune the spending plan.

The budget plans on spending $394.9 million in 2009, a 3.3 percent increase over 2008. To balance the budget, the county will have to use $32 million in past surpluses and cash from savings.

Jon Johnson, Jeffco's director of budget and management analysis, said the $32 million discrepancy between revenues and expenditures is tied to capital projects that have been planned for some time.

"It's all associated with capital projects that were budgeted," Johnson said. "It's coming from things that we've saved for."

A request by Clerk and Recorder Pam Anderson for $14.7 million for new election equipment for the 2009 general election makes up the bulk of the new capital spending. The county is also planning $9.3 million in improvements to roads and bridges, $8.2 million in open space projects and $250,000 in airport projects.

"We're not financing (these projects)," Johnson said. "We've utilized revenues that we've set aside." He noted that many requests for 2009 were moved to future years.

Property taxes, the largest revenue stream for the county, are projected to bring in about $182 million, an increase of less than 1 percent over 2008. Johnson said the county has been anticipating little growth in property tax revenue. He said the 2010 budget will reflect the downturn in the housing market, because it will take into account the first property tax assessment since 2007.

"We just kind of have to hunker down and expect that that's not an area we're going to see growth in the coming years," Johnson said.

Sales tax revenues in 2009 are expected to increase nearly 3 percent over 2008, but auto ownership tax revenues are expected to be down 5 percent. Money earned by the county through services, fines and permits is projected to be down by more than 5 percent.

Building-permits and inspection fees are expected at 16.5 percent less than 2008, and traffic impact fees —money earned on development projects —will be down by nearly 50 percent.

Salaries and benefits for county employees are projected to cost more than $208 million, a 4 percent increase over 2008. Johnson said the increase will help provide merit increases for county employees. The increase comes even though there is no funding for new employees; there will be 2,918 employees funded in Jeffco's 2009 budget.

"Last year we let departments figure out how they could absorb any pay increases," Johnson said. "This year, it's specifically earmarked to actually fund it."

Increased costs for fuel and other petroleum-based supplies are driving a nearly 6 percent increase in the cost of supplies and purchased services.

2009's budget reflects a cautious county budget office.

"Our hope is, this year, knowing the forecast for the next several years looks like things are relatively flat or starting to decrease, we wanted in 2009 to have everybody maintain the status quo," Johnson said. "We're using 2009 as the year to see how we are going to be living within our means."

Commissioner Kathy Hartman said the budget process will pose major challenges over the next few years.

"In the short term, county budget and finances are in pretty good shape," Hartman said. "The real question with this year's budget becomes, ‘How much do we invest in our priorities and how much do we salt away for future use?’ 2010 is going to prove to be much harder."

Hartman said the county is already behind in properly funding road repair and human services.

"The question becomes, ‘Do we put more money into them this year knowing we won't have money next year, or do we save this year so we don't have to cut as much next year?’ " Hartman said.

She said the fine-tuning process over the next few months will give her insight into future budgeting challenges.

"Since I will have to do next year's budget as well, I'm going to be looking at the 2010 budget while making decisions about 2009," Hartman said.

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.

Come see for yourself...

A public hearing will be held to discuss the budget on Nov. 25 at the Jefferson County Courts and Administration Building in Golden. Call the commissioners office at 303-271-8525 for the room and time.