Election ’22, Pitkin BOCC candidates: Kelly McNicholas Kury, Day 3
This week The Aspen Times is publishing a series of questions and answers from the two candidates vying for the District 2 seat on the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners — incumbent Kelly McNicholas Kury and challenger Erin Smiddy. The District 1 seat for the BOCC is also on the ballot with incumbent Commissioner Patti Clapper running opposed. Election Day is Nov. 8, and ballots were mailed out last week
Today’s question: Which areas of the county government should be shielded from budget cuts and why?
I believe that Pitkin County has and should continue to budget conservatively and maintain enough savings to readily weather any economic downturn. But, where we have an overabundance of reserves, we should also spend to solve serious community problems.
Structurally, many of the county’s funds are either voter approved or are enterprise funds, which means that they are somewhat shielded from budget alterations by the BOCC. These include Open Space and Trails, Healthy Rivers and Streams, the translator fund, the library, and RFTA, which have been determined by the voters, and then the solid waste center and the airport, which are enterprise funds and must recirculate their monies to items relevant for those sites.
In the remaining funds where the BOCC can execute some discretion, I would not support cutting funding from public safety or human services. The sheriff’s department, jail, and dispatch are already understaffed yet are an essential county service. I additionally would not cut human services because any economic downturn would likely create greater demands on the economic assistance and family protective services the county provides, as well as the contributions to our non-profit service providers who help the community weather such downturns.
In the event of significant budget cuts, I would look to hold off on major capital projects or phase them to address the absolute necessities first. I would additionally hold off on any non-emergent road and bridge replacements, ordinary purchase of fleet vehicles, and supplemental monies from the general fund to other funds. In the event that we could not draw down on savings to cover employee pay and benefits, I would also look to share the belt tightening equitably across the organization by asking each department to present budget-reduction plans, pausing pay increases, and reducing county share of benefits costs in a manner that accounts for the increased hardship for those at the lower end of our payscale.
Pitkin County has budgeted conservatively over the last four years and has additionally experienced an explosion of sales-tax receipts. The combination of these two things means there is a very healthy budget with a healthy savings held in reserve. I believe we have an obligation to spend the healthy savings on issues of significant community concern. Because housing availability has become even more stressed in the last two years, I have asked the board to set aside half of the unassigned savings in the 2023 general fund for housing projects. This is about $5 million. While this would not preclude using those monies for other things, it would cause the board to have an open dialogue about re-allocating the funding in lieu of spending it on housing solutions.