County releases Ballot Issue 1A report card

Archuleta County staff released a Ballot Issue 1A report card Feb. 5, detailing projects and expenditures undertaken in 2008, unspent dollars from 2008 rolled over into 2009, and anticipated 2009 1A revenue.

According to the report, and as of Dec. 31, 2008, the county had collected $1.52 million in Ballot Issue 1A revenue and spent $739,604.

The $1.52 million figure appears slightly down from projections, although county staff explained the difference is due to anticipated collections of $65,648 in grants and property tax that have not yet arrived in the county’s coffers, but, once they do, will be credited to 2008. In the end, between grants and property tax, revenue available for 2008 1A related projects topped out at $1.82 million.

In addition to providing figures for 2008 1A collections and expenditures, the report breaks down expenditures into categories, as described in the commissioners’ 2006 letter of commitment.

Former Archuleta County commissioners John Egan, Robin Schiro and Ronnie Zaday drafted and approved the letter as a quid pro quo to garner voter support for the ballot issue. According to the letter, if voters agreed to freeze the mill levy at the 2006 level of 18.233 mills for five years — from 2007 to 2012 — then the commissioners promised to earmark percentages of total 1A collections into a series of specific spending categories when the first 1A dollars became available in 2008.

Specifically, the commissioners — via the letter — allocated 40 percent of 2008 1A dollars, or $500,000 (whichever was greater), for road maintenance; 20 percent for technology and training; 20 percent for parks and recreation projects and 20 percent for architectural plans and the public planning process associated with building a new jail and sheriff’s facilities.

The report details 2008 budget commitments in said categories and actual 2008 1A expenditures. (See the accompanying Ballot Issue 1A table on A9 for a complete breakdown.)

As 2008 came to a close, a new board (comprised of Schiro, Zaday and Bob Moomaw), elected officials and county staff grappled with creating a 2009 budget, and the question of how to spend 1A dollars arose again.

Specifically, the commissioners pondered two key questions: First, should they roll over unspent 2008 1A dollars into the same spending categories for 2009? And second, at what percentages should they allocate 2009 1A dollars?

Ultimately, the commissioners agreed to the same spending categories although they adjusted the percentages of 1A dollars allocated to each — namely, 60 percent for road maintenance, 10 percent for technology and training, and 15 percent each for parks and recreation and facilities.

That said, the report also details anticipated 2009 1A collections and percentage based allocations to each of the spending categories.

Based on the 2006 letter of commitment, data provided by county staff and an analysis of commissioner legislative activity, the following paragraphs break down — by spending category — how the county spent 1A dollars in 2008.

Roads — 40 percent

2008 1A budget commitment: $612,852.

2008 actual 1A expenditures: $150,149.

Rollover to ’09: $462,703.

2009 1A road revenue: $716,795.

Total available 1A road funds for 2009: $1.18 million.

2008 1A road projects: Purchase and application of magnesium chloride.

2009 1A road projects: To be determined.

Roads. Long the perennial issue in Archuleta County, although Ballot Issue 1A promised, in part, to help alleviate the woes associated with the county’s arguably decrepit and aging road system. Unfortunately, the county spent just $150,149 in 1A dollars on road maintenance, and although many in the county appreciated the application of mag-chloride, many residents, particularly on Fourmile Road, said it was too little, too late.

County staff acknowledged residents’ concerns and said the delay in procurement and application was linked to transportation and delivery difficulties with suppliers.

Archuleta County Administrator Greg Schulte said an additional challenge associated with spending 1A dollars on roads was county staff’s desire to adhere “to the letter of the law, so to speak.”

And Archuleta County Finance Director Don Warn said, “We tried to be very cautious how we used that money.”

Both Schulte and Warn were referring to the letter of commitment’s specification that 1A road dollars be spent on road maintenance and not road capital improvements. Lacking a clear road maintenance plan, and wanting to spend 1A road dollars “in a thoughtful way,” Schulte said staff and the commissioners opted to use part of the 2008 1A road dollars on mag-chloride, with the remainder slated for rollover and expenditure in 2009.

When asked about 1A related road projects for 2009, Schulte said it was too soon to release a project list, although one would be ready by early spring.

“We’re prioritizing road projects, although we’re not ready to release what roads and what projects. However, we fully anticipate spending every dime of that (1A money) in 09,” Schulte said.

Technology and training — 20 percent

2008 1A budget commitment: $612,921.

2008 actual 1A expenditures: $512,047.

Rollover to ’09: $100,874.

2009 1A revenue: $119,466.

Total available 1A technology and training funds for 2009: $220,340.

2008 1A technology and training projects: Integrated software project and computer replacement.

2009 1A technology and training projects: Continuing education and training for county staff, additional computer replacement and software licensing.

County staff launched the $546,494 software upgrade Dec. 16, and many in the organization say the program should bring the organization out of the digital dark ages and into the 21st century.

Under the old software system — a DOS-based dinosaur on the cutting edge of technology in the 1980s — county staff and elected officials complained of computer crashes, access problems, double or triple data entry requirements (often by hand), difficulties in generating simple reports, and the inability of the system to talk with other branches of the county, or in some cases, even systems in the same department. By contrast the new system links the assessor and treasurer’s office with the finance department.

A Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) grant covered $284,000 of the project cost, the county’s department of human services provided an additional $22,494 and Ballot Issue 1A funds provided $240,000.

Looking ahead to 2009, Schulte said there are many seven- to eight-year-old computers in the county inventory that are in need of replacement, and he is looking at 2009 as the year to institute a computer replacement schedule.

“It’s good practice to establish a schedule for technology replacement,” Schulte said. “1A dollars will allow us to get a jump on that.”

As an additional expense, Schulte said $30,000 has been earmarked in 2009 to catch up on software licensing requirements with Microsoft.

Parks and recreation — 20 percent

2008 1A budget commitment: $306,427.

2008 actual 1A expenditures: $0

Rollover to ’09: $306,427.

2009 1A parks and recreation revenue: $179,199.

Total available 1A parks and recreation funds for 2009: $485,626.

2008 1A parks and recreation projects: None

2009 1A parks and recreation projects: To be determined.

Ballot Issue 1A parks and recreation funds remained virtually untouched throughout 2008 until December 2008, when commissioners Moomaw and Zaday voted to take $150,000 from the Ballot Issue 1A parks and recreation funding pool to construct an equestrian arena adjacent to the Archuleta County Fairgrounds.

As one of their last legislative acts of 2008, the move became a flashpoint for citizen complaints. Many in the community charged the commissioners with caving to the whims of special interests, and asked if an equestrian facility was truly an appropriate use of 1A parks and recreation funds — particularly when a regional parks plan named a number of other more pressing projects such a trail linking Pagosa Lakes with downtown, a skatepark and others.

In January, commissioners Clifford Lucero and John Ranson took office, and as one of their first legislative acts, voted, with Moomaw, to put the $150,000 back in the 1A parks and recreation pool.

With $485,626 available in 2009, Schulte said county staff looks forward to utilizing the Parks Recreation Open Space and Trails Task Force as a clearing house for project proposals and for the task force to make 1A spending recommendations to the board of county commissioners.

Although the board has the ultimate say on how 1A parks and recreation dollars are spent, potential funding could go to a skate park, the Town to Lakes Trail, or toward a regional county park on Cloman Boulevard.

Facilities — 20 percent

2008 1A budget commitment: $306,427.

2008 actual 1A facilities expenditures: $77,408.

Rollover to ’09: $229,019

2009 1A facilities revenue: $179,199.

Total available 1A facilities funds for 2009: $408,218.

2008 1A facilities projects: None, per the letter of commitment, although expenditures occurred.

2009 1A facilities projects: Unknown.

According to the report, and despite the fact the 2006 letter of commitment called specifically for facilities spending linked to architectural plans and the public process associated with a new jail and sheriffs facilities, the commissioners approved a $26,250 loan from the 1A facilities pool to fund a joint, town-county narcotics officer. According to county documents, the joint narcotics officer loan will be repaid with dollars from the sheriff’s property seizure fund. To date however, zero property seizure dollars have been collected , although Archuleta County Undersheriff and Public Information Office John Weiss said a June drug raid should bring funds to the seizure pool.

In addition, the board approved spending $46,247 from the 1A facilities pool for emergency generators to power emergency operations and road and bridge facilities, and $4,911 on a control board used to control access to the Archuleta County Jail.

Although 2008’s facilities spending patterns don’t fit the “letter of the law” per the 2006 letter of commitment, it foreshadows a similar spending tack the commissioners intend to take for 2009.

The spending shift and the decision to loosen the facilities spending parameters in 2009 has its roots in the county’s 2007 financial crisis, when plans for long term capital projects, such as a $22 million county government complex, were either suspended or scrapped altogether as the county scrambled to cut costs and avoid bankruptcy.

According to Schulte, although a new courthouse and justice center remain on staff’s radar, the project is still years in the making. Nevertheless, Schulte said 2009 1A facilities spending will be tempered to balance long-term facilities needs, with short-term and arguably more pressing facilities concerns.