Summit County’s 2019 budget will see a $13 million increase over 2018
For those sitting at the edge of the seat waiting to hear the juicy details of Summit County’s 2019 budget projections, this one’s for you. For everyone else, bear with us, there’s important stuff worth knowing about here.
Summit County manager Scott Vargo and finance director Marty Ferris sat down to explain the projected budget for the next year as county services continue to expand as the population grows. At the moment, the county budget is projected to increase to $108,974,208 in 2019 from the 2018 budget of $95,709,036 — an increase of a little over $13 million.
The 2018 budget was used as the base for the 2019 budget. Vargo said that the county continues to use conservative estimates when it comes to projected increases in sales tax (2 percent projected increase), fee (1 percent) and property tax (1.4 percent) revenues. All county departments have been directed to maintain 2018 expense levels, within reason.
Big-ticket construction projects make up a significant share of the increase. The county’s Solid Waste Fund will receive a little over $6 million, with $4 million going toward paying for a new below ground landfill “cell,” or specially-engineered pit into which garbage is stored, and the rest going to new heavy equipment.
Modern landfill cells are surprisingly complex. A lot of engineering and planning is invested to make sure the waste is properly stored and won’t seep into groundwater or otherwise pollute the environment outside of the Summit County Resource Allocation Park.
$1.25 million of the enterprise fund will be spent on replacing screens on several inlets on the Snake River sewer. The transit capital fund will also receive a little over $5 million to construct the new Frisco Transfer Center, as well as to complete the purchase of six new cutaway buses, with 80 percent of the bus funds coming from grants.
Operating expenses will see an increase of nearly $200,000. Vargo said that increase is related to increases in cost-of-living expenses for county employees, as well as increases in costs to fuel, utilities and maintenance.
The county retains over $25 million in “unrestricted” funds in reserve from last year. When asked about why that money can’t be used to fund county services instead of asking voters to approve a 10-year property tax hike with Initiative 1A, Vargo said it is the fiscally responsible thing to do.
“We believe it’s appropriate and necessary to have a reserve for emergencies,” Vargo said. “We want to have a reserve based on general standards in accounting industry, which is a minimum of three months worth of operating funds and $5 million identified for some sort of natural disaster. In our case, that disaster would likely be wildfire.”
As far as continuing to conservatively estimate the increase in sales tax revenue despite seeing revenues exceed projections the past few years, Vargo said that the county’s finance people don’t feel comfortable with the better-than-expected increases to be an indefinite trend and continue to be conservative when it comes to expected revenue.
Looking forward, Vargo said the county is concerned about the looming changes to property tax assessment ratios because of the Gallagher amendment, which requires a certain ratio for residential and commercial property tax collection rates. That assessment ratio for residential properties dropped to 7.2 percent from 7.96 during the last two-year cycle. The state estimates that the ratio will drop again to 6.11 percent in 2020.
“We will lose out on $14.5 million between 2016 and 2020 because of Gallagher,” Vargo said. “We’re preparing for that.”
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