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Jeffco commission OKs $387 million budget

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2009 spending plan omits funds for new election equipment

By AJ Vicens

The Jeffco commissioners have adopted a 2009 budget that is nearly $8 million smaller than the one proposed at the end of November, mainly due to uncertainty about election equipment.

The commissioners on Dec. 9 approved a budget of $387 million for Jefferson County in 2009, down from the $394.9 million budget that staffers presented at the end of November. Although the commissioners added $6.5 million in spending, they cut $14.4 million that staffers had recommended for new election equipment.

Jefferson County Clerk and Recorder Pam Anderson, who oversaw the largest election in county history Nov. 4, said the county might have to purchase new equipment eventually under new federal and state certification laws. But it's not clear when that might happen, and in a county with sagging revenues and a lot of needs, it didn't make sense to put so much aside for the equipment.

"The commissioners' thinking behind this is that there's still so much uncertainty," Anderson said. "We're still looking for direction from the legislature on how we'll be voting. We haven't gotten any clear direction on that, and we're not sure how much it's going to cost."

Anderson said there's talk of allowing the state to go to all-mail ballots, which could cost the county as little as $20,000. But there's also a chance the county will have to replace all of its voting equipment, which could cost as much as $14.4 million. Jeffco's current equipment, along with that of most Colorado counties, is conditionally certified through July 2009.

"It's difficult to set aside the amount of money we'll need," Anderson said. "It makes it difficult to move forward with fiscal responsibility and responsible planning long term."

Some areas see increase in funding

Eliminating the funds for new election equipment left room to boost spending in other areas. A project to remodel courtrooms and accommodate a new judge in 2009 was allocated $5 million.

The sheriff's office also will get $400,000 to partially replace the retirement match the county took away from all county employees in 2008. The lack of a retirement match is one of the reasons the sheriff's office is on track to lose more than 60 of its 700 employees this year.

The commissioners also funded a new position each for the coroner's office and the district attorney's office. And the county’s overall operating costs will grow by $400,000.

The budget comes in a little more than 1 percent higher than 2008's, which was $382.4 million.

Revenues short of spending

County revenues are projected to be $363 million in 2009, more than $20 million less than expenditures. To balance the budget, the county will use past savings and fund balances.

Property tax revenue, the single largest income stream for the county, is projected to bring in $182 million in 2009, an increase of less than 1 percent over 2008. Auto ownership taxes and revenue collected by services, fines and permits are projected to be down 5 percent in 2009. Traffic impact fees — fees charged by the county on development projects — will be down by nearly 50 percent.

Salaries and benefits for county employees will use up roughly $208 million in 2009, a 4 percent increase over 2008. The increase over last year will help the county fund 3 percent merit raises, which will be given to employees at managers' discretion.

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