2009 county budget, $23 million-plus expenditures

Phone calls, e-mail banter, an online poll and letters to the editor weren’t enough to discourage the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners from appropriating $400,000 for a multi-use facility and event center slated for construction adjacent to the Archuleta County Fairgrounds, during Thursday’s 2009 budget hearing.

“At this point the money has been set aside, but by no means is this a done deal,” Archuleta County Commissioner Bob Moomaw said.

The board, comprised of Moomaw and Archuleta County Commissioner Ronnie Zaday (Archuleta County Commissioner Robin Schiro was absent) moved to earmark $250,000 from the Conservation Trust Fund, and $150,000 from Ballot Issue 1A parks and recreation dollars for the event center during their meeting Dec. 9.

With the earmark complete, the commissioners then voted during Thursday’s budget hearing (Schiro absent) to establish an enterprise fund and appropriate the money, which then allows it to be spent.

When asked how the arena-events center tallied into the county’s long-term parks and recreation plans, and particularly how it fit within the Regional Parks, Recreation, Open Space and Trails Master Plan, Zaday said, “It is a part of recreation and it is an events center.”

Addressing economic concerns and questions of timing, Moomaw said, “One reason to push forward now is to have it in the budget. This is simply setting the money aside just like we have done for a number of other capital projects. Just because it was set aside, doesn’t mean it’s going to be spent. That’s the big misconception, that the money has already been spent.”

Although not spent yet, budgetary appropriation makes the dollars available for expenditure. However, the board has not yet completed a business plan or provided firm estimates on construction or long term operating costs.

That said, Archuleta County Administrator Greg Schulte said county staff and the next board of county commissioners would exercise due diligence before spending dollars on the project.

“I can’t imagine the new BoCC allowing any sort of approval without additional research,” said Schulte Dec. 15 during a discussion of the event center.

Commissioners-elect John Ranson and Clifford Lucero take office in January and they, along with Moomaw, will ultimately decide whether the project goes forward.

2009 budget highlights

For 2009, the total revenue budget for all funds is projected at $22.5 million. Expenditures are anticipated at $23.6 million. The county will use carry-over cash from 2008 to bridge the difference.

County staff anticipate General Fund Revenue at $9.9 million, with expenditures at $9.7 million.

According to county staff, property tax revenues are expected to increase by 3 percent, or by $166,098 due to higher property assessed valuations. However, 2009 is a reassessment year, and while property tax revenue should increase for 2009 budget purposes, market activity between now and June 2009 will set the tone for 2010 collections and budget purposes. If home sales decline during that time period, property taxes will decrease, causing atrophy in one of the county’s primary revenue streams.

However, while property taxes appear on the rise in 2009, sales tax revenues are projected to decline further — down 3 percent from 2007 — for collections anticipated at $3.22 million which is split between the General Fund and the Road Capital Fund.

After federal approval of the bailout package in October, Archuleta County should begin receiving full PILT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) which could add an additional $325,000 to the county coffers per year through 2012.

Unfortunately for county staff, neither a cost of living adjustment (COLA) or merit increases are included in the 2009 budget. Schulte said the issues may be revisited during a mid year budget adjustment.

In addition, the 2009 budget incorporates the first annual payment back to the Road Capital Improvement fund for money borrowed earlier in the year to zero out negative fund balances, and the addition of two full time employees — a public works director, and an associate planner.

james@pagosasun.com