Jeffco budget assessments begin

Glenn Wallace
Posted

Preliminary meetings began in April between Jefferson County Budget Director Tina Caputo and the Jeffco Board of County Commissioners, where they have discussed general budget policy and the timeline for assembling next year’s budget.

Adoption of next year’s budget will take place in December. The fiscal year begins Jan. 1

The 2013 budget, which totaled $468 million, may just be entering the second quarter, but Caputo said she already had several questions, mostly about process and general budget policy, that she wanted county commissioner direction on, including whether to hold strategic budget meetings with department heads, and whether to let the commissioners do more of the early sorting of capital improvement project planning.

In discussions so far, the three commissioners — District 1 Commissioner Faye Griffin, District 2 Commissioner Casey Tighe, and District 3 Commissioner Donald Rosier — seemed to prefer a blended approach on both topics. Information-only meetings, designed to give each department an overview of the county’s finances are to be set up for later this year.

“It’s important to get all the information in front of everyone, to make sure they feel it’s open and transparent,” District 3 Commissioner Don Rosier said at the April 24 budget discussion meeting.

Rosier added that he would not want to see those meetings extend into budget decision-making though.

On the question of capital improvement projects, the commission decided to request copies of all county project proposals as they are submitted by different departments, while still asking the budget office and county management staff develop a recommendation list.

“I wouldn’t mind seeing the whole list, since we end up hearing about them anyway,” District 1 Commissioner Faye Griffin said, also at the April 24 meeting.

The early budget meetings revealed some good news.

End-of-year accounting found the county overcharged some county departments for IT and facilities costs according to Caputo. Much of the reimbursed money ($3.1 million) will stay in the General Fund, but will be available to different departments to help offset 2013 costs. Among the bigger beneficiaries are Opens Space ($119,000), Social Services ($634,000), and libraries ($30,000).

Future financial pressures look to be increasing for the county. Caputo told the commissioners that the early county budget projections showed only a 2-percent rise in property tax revenue in coming years, and added that current budget projections looking five years and more into the future, still show zero pay increases for county employees, which she characterized as “unrealistic.” She said future budget meetings would contain preliminary reports on what pay increases for county employees would look like.

In looking to increase revenue to maintain services, one topic that the county commissioners will have to decide upon is whether to increase county taxes up to the level they are already entitled to. The county mill levy is currently less than what the county government could collect, without voter approval.

“Twenty-six million dollars seems like the gap between what we did collect and what we could collect,” if taxes were raised to the maximum in 2012, Caputo said.