Jeffco presents balanced budget

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By Deborah Swearingen

Initial 2019 budget considerations in Jefferson County show a $586.2 million spending plan, a balanced budget that is some $30 million more than was approved for 2018.

Similar to years past, the largest chunk of the county’s expenditures comes from salaries and benefits for county employees. Operating expenditures, which are up $15.5 million from the adopted 2018 budget, total $474.6 million with salaries and benefits making up approximately 51 percent of that amount. The county has planned for an average 3 percent pay increase for employees, and it budgeted for 28 new full-time employees in development and transportation, parks, library and public health.

Its $586.2 million spending plan is rounded out with $46.8 million in capital expenditures, such as infrastructure projects, and $64.8 million in interdepartmental expenditures, including the county fleet.

Revenues, of which taxes comprise approximately 70 percent, are forecasted to increase in 2019. The county expects to receive $452.2 million from taxes — largely property, auto-ownership and sales — and grant revenues, which are primarily managed by Jeffco Human Services and Jeffco Public Health.

To make up the rest of the $586.2 million in revenue, the county will utilize $107.3 million in inter-fund transfers and $26.7 million of its available and unrestricted fund balance.

This was disconcerting for Commissioner Casey Tighe, who worried about dipping into the county’s savings.

“When you look at the size of our use of fund balance, I don’t think we’re going to innovate and find cost savings to that extent,” he said, referencing work done by Jefferson County Road and Bridge to save money. “... We aren’t going to find $26.7 million in things like fuel savings.”

Mary O’Neil, director of budget and risk management, expressed similar concerns in her presentation to the commissioners.

“We do see challenges for 2019 and in the future for the general fund and the capital expenditures fund. For 2019, we have used fund balance for projects and capital and for one-time business cases,” she said.

“In order to balance the 2019 budget, we made $18.5 million in one-time adjustments,” O’Neil later added.

The proposed budget book, which can be found on the county website, indicates that the growth of revenues will not keep pace with expenditures and that one-time adjustments will not be a permanent solution when preparing for 2020 and beyond.

While Tighe suggested it might be appropriate to go to the voters and gauge their thoughts on a property tax increase, Commissioners Libby Szabo and Tina Francone felt that should be a last resort.

Szabo said Jeffco should act as an example to its taxpayers and work to find innovative solutions to cut costs. Francone agreed, noting the importance of taking a “good, hard look” at the budget and determining if there are ways to improve Jeffco’s financial situation without going to the taxpayers.

“I think in 2019 for the 2020 budget we’re really going to have to have a good hard look at what we do and what services are provided here in Jefferson County. And I don’t think the first solution is to cut,” Francone said.

“ … I trust that our employees will come up with more innovative solutions like they did this year to really balance that budget,” she added, noting that she expects staff to be innovate, collaborative and resilient. “ … Because Jeffco’s always been the innovator, the leader, the cutting edge. On everything. And I don’t think the budget is any different.”

No members of the public spoke on the matter during an Oct. 16 public hearing. However, there are more chances for Jefferson County residents to voice concerns or share thoughts. A budget adoption hearing is scheduled for the commissioners’ Nov. 13 meeting, which begins at 8 a.m. in hearing room one of the county building in Golden.

View the 66-page 2019 budget proposal book online at: https://www.jeffco.us/DocumentCenter/View/15090/2019-Proposed-Budget-Book.

Contact reporter Deborah Swearingen at dswearingen@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1042.