County budget for 2015 is in ‘excellent fiscal health’ | AspenTimes.com

County budget for 2015 is in ‘excellent fiscal health’

Michael McLaughlin
The Aspen Times

The 2015 Pitkin County budget points to increased spending within the county but also shows the county's ending fund balances as remaining healthy and well above the recommended reserves.

"If there's an overarching theme to this year's budget and five-year plan, it's investing in infrastructure, renewal and modernization," said County Manager Jon Peacock. "The goal is to make investments today in our infrastructure that will ensure that we can provide good services now but, more importantly, continue to provide them into the future. You'll see a heavy emphasis, particularly on facilities and technology, and a continued emphasis on roads and our people."

Overall budget increases are driven by proposed investments to renew and modernize facilities for law enforcement, the courts, the airport, the library, public meeting spaces, public transportation and administrative space.

"The proposed 2015 budget and five-year plan, with increased investments for deferred infrastructure and operating expenditures, leaves the county in excellent fiscal health," Peacock said. "We have strong fund balances and operating surpluses."

For 2015, the county is proposing to spend $91.2 million, an 11 percent increase from 2014. Even with the increase in spending, the county anticipates an overall ending fund balance of $64.6 million, which is 71 percent of the anticipated 2015 expenditure cost.

The Government Finance Officers Association, which represents 18,000 federal, state and municipal finance officials, recommends that 16.7 percent of yearly expenditures be saved.

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The 2015 county general fund operations, which represent the ongoing day-to-day running of the county, and general fund capital, which pays for one-time county projects and expenditures, will total $31.8 million. That will lower the general fund balance by nearly $2 million to $14.7 million, or 46 percent of the anticipated expenditure cost but still much higher than the guidelines for fund-balance savings.

The biggest change in the general fund balances occurs from 2014 to 2016, when the operating fund balance shows a decrease of $6.7 million, with growth occurring thereafter. Most of that decrease comes from a recommendation in the five-year plan that $5.5 million in the operating fund balance be used to help fund the Courthouse Plaza remodel project, an estimated $20 million project.

The general fund balance is expected to drop to its lowest point at the end of 2016, when it should total $10.5 million. Even at that low point, the fund will remain 22 percent above 2016 appropriations.

Financing the remodel and construction of an addition to the Courthouse Plaza represents the largest impact on the general fund's proposed 2015 budget and five-year plan.

The Courthouse Plaza project proposes to design and construct a 17,000- to 18,000-square-foot addition to the plaza building, with a concurrent remodel of the existing plaza. In 2015, $1.7 million is budgeted for the addition and the remodel. In 2016, $18.3 million is proposed for construction of the plaza addition and remodel of the existing plaza. An additional $1 million is budgeted for 2018-19 for the courthouse remodel, primarily for security improvements.

"We have a lot of deferred investments in infrastructure and operations," Peacock said. "We're looking to sustain a high quality of county services into the future."

Other county projects that carry significant capital expenditures include the Pitkin County library expansion, the airport environmental assessments and development opportunities for affordable housing.

County infrastructure will see another $2 million go toward road improvements in 2015, along with nearly $1.6 million for vehicle/heavy-equipment replacement, information technology and dispatch operations.

The county is looking to add more employees, as well. In 2014-15, the budget includes the addition of more than 13 full-time positions. That growth comes from moving services in-house that were once contracted, increasing part-time positions to full-time to address workload changes or to address new service demands.

During the next six weeks, the county will go into its core focus meetings and review the final budget numbers in more detail. The final budget recap will occur on Dec. 9, with the final adoption of the budget, as well as the mill levy certifications, set for Dec. 15.

"We have a lot of different people who are involved with groups that meet to discuss and help plan the budget," said Connie Garofalo, Pitkin County's budget director. "They put in a lot of time to ensure we're doing the right thing. You have to look at the budget from a multiyear perspective. Are your ongoing expenditures in line with your ongoing revenues? Over the next five years, we're going to be."

mmclaughlin@aspentimes.com

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