County weighs budget

Glenn Wallace
Posted

Jefferson County’s commissioners have until the first week of December to make some hard decisions about the 2013 county budget with flat revenues and growing expenses.

While the county budget office presented a $472.6 million draft budget to commissioners last month, not everyone has expressed acceptance of those figures. Law enforcement representatives have lobbied to reinstate step-in-pay increases, which are unfunded for all county employees in the draft budget. Third District Commissioner Don Rosier said he felt the draft budget’s use of $24.5 million in remaining fund balances as disturbing and unsustainable.

“What I see here is a fiscal cliff in two years,” Rosier said.

His fellow commissioner, First District representative Faye Griffin promised that “there will be a lot of changes that will happen,” before the draft budget (jeffco.us/budget) becomes the final version that is adopted.

To either pay for salary increases, or to reduce the 2013 budget’s dependence on fund balances — up 37 percent from 2012 — the money will have to come from somewhere.

With that in mind, the Board of County Commissioners have been holding their annual budget meetings with the heads of every department in Jeffco, going over proposed budgets and asking questions.

Among the departments that have already met with the commissioners are Parks and Recreation, asking for $41,556,163 in the proposed budget.

Tom Hoby, Jeffco Director of Parks and Open Space, reported at “an absolute minimum of 2.1 million visitors” used county parks and open space in 2011. He said the number could be three times higher, but the lack of gates, and multiple entrances to many of the parks made precise counts impossible.

Hoby and his staff detailed other elements of his division’s budget and operations. There are $4 million in open space project and acquisition funding for 2013 for instance. The Boetcher Mansion hosted 335 events last year, helping the facility cover more than 80 percent of its operating costs.

Human Services, the second biggest Jeffco department by budget size, representing 16.5 percent ($78.2 million) also met with commissioners last week. Executive Director Lynn Johnson said fielded a few questions about employee reporting, and using more results-based evaluations of services.

“We had a 170 to 190 percent increase in demand for services, and we kept our budget about the same,” Johnson said.

The county commissioners are scheduled to discuss the budget in greater detail in the coming weeks, including a public hearing on Nov. 16, with a final budget adoption on Dec. 4.