County Beat: July 30, 2020

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RBC | County finance director Janae Stanworth delivered some gloomy news to department heads Tuesday about the 2021 budget. Preliminary numbers indicate an 11.5% decrease in revenue due to reduced assessed valuations, primarily tied to oil and gas. 

“That’s a little more than $900,000 we’re pretty sure we’re not going to have in 2021,” she said. “We have to decrease our expenses by that amount of money. That’s about 5% of operations [expenses] right now.”

Revenue cuts don’t end with property tax valuations, either. The county annually receives severance tax and federal mineral lease dollars that are expected to be about $1 million lower for 2020 with even deeper cuts in 2021.

“The more we can reduce now, the longer we will be able to operate without having to decrease services or personnel or anything else. We aren’t just going to go back up automatically in 2022,” Stanworth said. 

“We’re going to have to change our spending habits,” said Commissioner Gary Moyer. 

The 2021 budget will be approved in December. 

The reduction in property tax revenue will extend to every special district with a mill levy. According to RBC Assessor Renae Nielsen, about 80% of the county’s assessed value is tied to oil and gas. 

In an effort to get a clearer outlook of revenue during the next 10 years, the commissioners approved a contract with Alvarium Economics out of Grand Junction to prepare a budget revenue forecast. The contract will cost $10,000, with the county paying $5,000 and the other half reimbursed by the Department of Local Affairs/Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado. 

During work sessions Tuesday prior to the regular board meeting, the commissioners discussed the cost of dispatch services and how those costs are shared between the sheriff’s department, the fire department, and the Meeker Police Department. 

The total budget for dispatch is $509,000. That amount could be cut substantially — to about $50,000, according to Commissioner Si Woodruff — by moving local dispatch services to the Colorado State Patrol’s call center in Craig, a topic which has been discussed previously. RBC Sheriff Anthony Mazzola and Emergency Manager Ty Gates said such a move would save money, but would further “tie the county to the state,” and would result in five or six lost jobs. 

Gates said he would be open to the idea of looking into a different regional call center, like Garfield County, that is familiar with our area. 

Commissioner Jeff Rector said he would prefer to do what he can to keep dispatch local for as long as possible.

Mazzola also updated the commissioners on the impact Senate Bill 217 will have on local law enforcement. The police reform bill, which was fast-tracked through Colorado’s legislature last month, has some requirements local law enforcement agencies must begin complying with now, including additional recording requirements for all law enforcement interactions. 

“Everything has to be recorded and sent to the state,” Mazzola said. He’s looking for software that will simplify the process, and hopes to find grant funding available. The state mandates are unfunded. 

There are additional requirements in the bill, and the specifics have raised multiple questions and concerns. “There are more questions than answers right now,” Mazzola said. “I’m just trying to get ahead of the curve.”

Public Health Director Alice Harvey said her department is working on the application for the county to move into the next phase of COVID-19 reopening, titled “Protect Our Neighbors,” and have discussed coordinating efforts with Moffat County Public Health. 

All six confirmed positive COVID-19 cases that have been reported in the county are considered “recovered” at this time.

By NIKI TURNER |editor@ht1885.com

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