Summit County approves $119.6M budget for 2021
Summit County will have around $119.6 million to spend in 2021, thanks to the unanimous approval of the annual budget by county commissioners Tuesday, Dec. 8.
The commissioners approved the budget after a monthslong process of public hearings and work session meetings. While the county will be able to have $119.6 million for spending, the number the commissioners actually approved was just under $123 million, Finance Director Marty Ferris said at the meeting.
In an interview, County Manager Scott Vargo said the discrepancy between those two numbers has to do with transfers from one budget fund to another.
For example, the county is transferring about $1 million from the general fund to the capital improvement fund for library renovations. In the official adoption of the budget, those transfers are counted in both funds, which creates the appearance of more money than is actually available for spending, Vargo said.
For that reason, the county is using the $119.6 million from its original presentation in October. That number remains the most accurate for what the county has to spend, Vargo said.
Overall, the 2021 budget falls about $10.5 million below the $130.5 million budgeted for 2020. The county was able to shave off the $10.5 million by reducing special revenue and enterprise funds, which pay for special projects throughout the county.
With $49.7 million budgeted for spending, the county’s general fund, which covers operating expenses and other projects, makes up the majority of the overall balance. In total, 2021’s general fund allocates $10,550 more for spending than in 2020, according to the budget presentation.
The county is anticipating about $48.2 million in general fund revenue for 2021, which is $180,788 less than it saw in 2020. The drop in revenue comes from decreased sales tax collections and fees as a result of the pandemic.
However, in future years, the county will be able to maintain its property tax revenue, which was put in jeopardy by changing residential assessment ratios due to the Gallagher Amendment.
In November, Colorado voters approved Amendment B, which repeals the Gallagher Amendment, allowing the residential assessment rate to remain at 7.15%. If voters did not approve the amendment or a local ballot measure to allow the county to adjust its mill levy rate, which also passed, the county would have been looking at a $5.5 million loss in revenue for 2022.
“We are really pleased and happy that both on a statewide level as well as locally those Gallagher questions were both passed,” Vargo said. “That put us in a position where we didn’t have to look at making radical changes to programs in anticipation of those cuts coming in 2022.”
Even with the ability to maintain its property tax funding, the county is looking at a long-term trend of spending outgrowing revenue, Vargo said.
“We continue to see increased demand for services, so we try to meet those demands. Sometimes that means we need staff and sometimes that means we need large capital projects to take place,” he said. “Over time, the county will have to make some decisions about priorities and exactly where and how we want to spend dollars so we can get the revenue and expense lines more closely lined up with one another.”
Vargo added that the county’s ability to manage the budget over the years has aided in its response to the pandemic.
“We’re a relatively stable organization and are able to provide support within the community and ramp up our response activities,” he said. “A lot of other counties in the state just don’t have that level of flexibility, and they’re really, really hurting as a result.”
The end of an era
The approval of the budget served as one of the final decisions Commissioners Karn Stiegelmeier and Thomas Davidson will make on the board.
Both commissioners are term-limited and will be replaced by commissioners-elect Tamara Pogue and Josh Blanchard in January, when neither Stiegelmeier nor Davidson will be on the board for the first time in 14 years.
At the meeting, Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence, who was elected to serve a second term on the board, congratulated Stiegelmeier and Davidson on their work.
“I just want to say ’thank you’ to Thomas and Karn,” she said. “You guys have done a real service to our community for over a decade in making sure we’re fiscally responsible and in a good place.”
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