Budget discussions continue at RBC

Editor’s Note: Numbers listed in this article are based on the latest proposed budget available at rbc.us and may not reflect recent changes or adjustments to estimated 2021 revenues and expenditures. This article also does not cover all the department budget meetings that have taken place so far. The HT will continue to update numbers and report on proposed budget changes as the process continues.

Rio Blanco County staff and officials face a multi-million dollar deficit in the county’s operating budget once again. Last year restructuring efforts and various cuts helped balance an operating revenue shortage of approximately $2.5 million. The 2022 budget deficit is projected around the same amount, and could wind up being more or less depending on a variety of factors. Revenue reductions are primarily related to assessed valuation reductions, which declined by 8.7% compared to 2021.

Aside from examples like the closure of the jail, major cuts have not yet been proposed to county department budgets, personnel, discretionary grant allocations or otherwise, though cuts are expected in coming weeks.

Thus far RBC Commissioners Ty Gates and Gary Moyer along with Budget and Finance Director Janae Stanworth and HR Director Laura Smith have been reviewing budgets with individual department heads, staff and elected officials to get a general overview. These preliminary budget workshops can be viewed in their entirety on the county’s YouTube page.

According to Commissioner Moyer, department heads/officials will be asked for input on potential cuts to arrive at a balanced budget for 2022. Final decisions on cuts, budget increases and fund re-allocations will be made by the Board of Commissioners.

Proposed operating expenditures for 2022 are $26,385,650 — up nearly $1.4 million from 2021 expenditures. Operating revenue projections meanwhile are up by about $154K. 

Despite near county-wide increases in items like supplies, travel/training, fleet management and others, most departments/special districts are proposing near flat budgets, with some increasing or decreasing slightly. Generally speaking, most increases are due to expected cost increases for things like data services/support, supplies, fleet/travel related costs, increases to insurance premiums and other line items that increase every year. In many instances these expected cost increases are offset by existing proposed cuts as well as revenue increases from grants and other sources.

District Attorney

The District Attorney for the 9th Judicial District is one example of an exception to the “flat budget” proposals, with Chief Judge James Berkely Boyd requesting a 22% increase to the district court’s overall budget, or about a $64K increase for Rio Blanco County, which shares the cost with Garfield and Pitkin Counties. Judge Boyd noted that Garfield County Commissioners had already agreed to increase their contribution and planned to pay for the increase with federal funding from the American Rescue Plan. He pitched the increase by explaining a “pent-up” need to increase public attorney salaries. “The team is suffering overload, overwork and we offer moderate pay. So I had to take some action this year and be proactive to try to get our salaries up and get our folks some help,” said Boyd. He emphasized that public attorneys often take on twice as many cases as their private counterparts, and for less pay. He corroborated the concept by noting a recent attempt to hire an RBC-based attorney, efforts he said fell through when an interested candidate could not justify cost-of-living expenses given relatively low wage offerings/high workloads for public attorneys compared to their private counterparts. Boyd said proposed increases to the budget would hopefully help future recruitment efforts for an RBC-based attorney.

During the DA budget workshop Commissioner Moyer said something he repeated in many workshops to follow: “It will be hard to justify an increase in one spot when we’re cutting in other places.” Both commissioners Moyer and Gates acknowledged the need for salary increases for 9th Judicial District attorneys and discussed potential ways to fund the increase. 

SHERIFF’S OFFICE 

The closure of the jail and subsequent transition to housing inmates in Moffat County so far represents one of the most significant cuts to proposed 2022 operating expenditures. As proposed, the closure will save the county approximately $230-290K compared to estimated/actual costs for 2021, a number which is expected to go up in 2023 and beyond. Sheriff Anthony Mazzola also noted the potential for new revenue generation via the Justice Center Building, which represents a significant capital investment for the county. One example would be to utilize the jail as a specialized training center for detentions operations, live-fire exercises and more.

The center’s total budget for 2021 (about $1.07 million) will be cut down to $228K in 2022. The majority of the $842K decrease comes from employee wage and benefit reductions as some justice center employees lose their jobs, while others transition to admin/patrol. Expenditures listed under the justice center for 2022 include $181K for direct costs associated with housing inmates in Moffat County and up to $46K to pay any remaining accrued leave/benefits to employees.

Offsetting those cost savings are increases to patrol and administrative expenditures, which are mostly associated with an increase of full-time staff. The office will add three patrol officers and one administrative/records staff position. Combined with more broad salary adjustments, the total increase to patrol and admin wages/benefits for 2022 is $431K. Other increases are for professional services data support ($10K) an increased yearly cost associated with new patrol laptops funded by federal COVID relief, uniforms/clothing ($2,500), firearm supplies ($1,500), general supplies ($30-45K) which includes money for training/POST academy, and fleet management ($55K) for estimated mileage costs on three additional patrol vehicles.

Said vehicles are listed under “new projects” and are expected to cost around $180K, though acquisition of new vehicles is still in the air due to global chip shortages and other supply chain issues. During the budget meeting, Sheriff Mazzola also noted that two existing vehicles need to be replaced.

ONGOING BUDGET WORKSHOPS

Major expenditures not listed under operating expenses are listed under “new projects” and include major equipment replacements/upgrades, capital improvements and other items. Some examples are: 

• cover tarp deployment system ($50K), motor grader ($400K) and asphalt zipper machine ($300K) for the Landfill/Road and Bridge ($50K)

• CAD upgrades ($266K) and 2-3 new patrol vehicles ($180K) for the Sheriff’s Office 

• firewall replacement ($150K), fiber-splicing van ($42K) network/billing/ticket management system ($255K) and associated data support ($111K) for IT/Communications

• Incode cloud hosting services ($14.8K) for Budget & Finance

• Meeker airport fuel farm replacement/upgrade ($750K), Rangely Fuel Dispenser ($31K), Columbine Park restoration ($38K) and various other items for Facilities

New project costs total $2,594,948 and are not all guaranteed approval by the board. Some costs are carry-over from 2021 projects, and others could be funded via grants or transfers from accrued fund balances/reserves. Commissioners have indicated that they will prioritize critical needs for new projects.

Total fund balances for the county in 2022 are $73,662,515 for all funds including governmental ($56.9 million) up $457K, enterprise ($9.5 million) up $76K, and internal service ($7.2 million) down $263K.


By LUCAS TURNER | lucas@ht1885.com

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