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County commission proposes cuts to local programs

Proposed cuts include Ag Expo and animal shelter; law enforcement jobs denied
The county building at 109 W. Main St. is being remodeled so county departments can have more room. The project is expected to cost $700,000 and will be completed in six months.

Revenues won’t cover expenses for the $13 million Montezuma County budget for 2018, but tapping into reserves will balance it out.

Expected revenues of $12.3 million are down due to a lower tax assessment ratio for residential properties calculated under the Gallagher Amendment.

The amendment requires that for all state property tax revenues, 45 percent must come from residential properties and 55 percent from commercial properties. Every two years, tax assessment ratios are reviewed, and were adjusted this year to stay within those levels.

“The huge rise of home values on the Front Range caused the residential tax assessment ratio to drop statewide, but it’s having negative impact for the budgets of rural counties,” said Melissa Brunner, county administrator.

The drop in the residential assessed tax ratio lost the county about $550,000 in revenues for 2018, she said.

Lower property tax revenues from Kinder Morgan’s carbon dioxide production has also impacted the county budget. Carbon dioxide is tied to low oil prices because it is sold to pressurize wells for oil recovery.

The budget crunch this year caused the county to enact a hiring freeze, and no raises were given. Brunner said county services budget will stay the same, but larger projects such as road paving may be delayed.

“The roads will still get plowed and maintained. All programs and departments are funded, there will be no layoffs,” she said.

But due to the lack of funding, requests by the sheriff’s and district attorney’s offices for more staff to handle increases in crimes were denied.

On Monday, the Montezuma County commission further tightened the budget, with proposed funding cuts for local libraries, High Desert Conservation, wildlife trapping, Firewise, an economic development group, and the Cortez Animal Shelter.

The commission’s 2018 recommended budget cuts include: $14,400 for local libraries, $13,203 to Montezuma Community Economic Development Association, $14,563 for Firewise, $6,750 for High Desert Conservation, $2,250 for the Four States Ag Expo, and $16,814 from a federal wildlife trapper program. Also the county contribution to the Cortez Animal Shelter was cut in half to $24,750.

“We are operating in the red, and cuts are necessary until the budget situation recovers,” Commissioner Keenan Ertel said. Commissioner Larry Don Suckla added that the cuts were needed because “we are spending money our of our reserves and we are in a deficit position.”

The commission noted that libraries have their own mill levies to support their budgets.

In 2017, the county shelled out $6.5 million from general and capital reserve accounts toward the $9.6 million new combined courthouse, a project mandated by the state. After the courthouse costs, the general fund reserve account has $12.5 million remaining, and the capital fund reserve account has $1.5 million remaining.

The county has put the old Justice Center on North Mildred Road up for sale.

The new courthouse freed up space at the county building, and departments are being reshuffled to give them space. Remodeling is expected to cost about $700,000, of which $350,000 is being paid for from the separate Social Services budget. The remainder is being paid for out of the county capital fund.

The main county complex at 109 W. Main St. is divided into two adjacent three-story sections – one on the east side, one on the west side.

The Social Services offices will move onto the first and third floors of the east side, and the second floor of the west side. The county historical museum will move into the old Social Services building at 35 S. Chestnut St.

The county commission, administration, federal lands, planning and GIS will relocate to the second floor of the east building. The old courthouse on that floor is being remodeled into the new commission room.

“It will hold more than 100 people, where the current commission room holds 40,” Brunner said. “Except on Mondays, the commission room will be available for community meetings and events.”

The District Attorney’s Office will move to the third floor of the west building where county administration is now.

The Colorado State University Extension Office will move from its basement location on the west side to the former DA’s office at 103 N. Chestnut St. Information technology will move into the west building basement previously the extension office.

“The remodel is all being done in-house, and is expected to be complete in six months,” Brunner said.

jmimiaga@the-journal.com

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