No raises for Garfield County employees | AspenTimes.com

No raises for Garfield County employees

John Colson
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The roughly 490 employees of Garfield County have been told not to expect a 2 percent “cost-of-living adjustment” that at one point was being built into the county’s budget for 2010.

But, said the county’s finance director, the raise still might come through.

As county officials work out the details of next year’s budget, the word from the Garfield County commissioners is “0 percent increase for 2010,” said finance director Lisa Dawson on Tuesday.

Still, she said, the commissioners are reserving for themselves the right to change their mind next January, which comes about a month after the budget will have been formally adopted.

But that month also will give the commissioners a clearer picture of the county’s overall revenue picture for the 2009 budget year, so they can determine whether a raise for county employees would be a budget-buster or not in light of the effects of the ongoing national economic downturn.

With that in mind, Dawson said, the commissioners have instructed the finance office to build the 2 percent raise in as a kind of place-holder, just in case it can be accommodated.

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Conceding that the stratagem is a bit confusing, county budget officials indicated that the commissioners concluded it would be better to plan for no raise and then be able to give one, rather than plan for a raise and have to take it back.

“We are going to move forward with 0 percent increase for all the staff for the next year,” Dawson explained, but the 2 percent raise will be calculated into the budget “to see what that looks like.”

Dawson said a 2 percent raise, if feasible, would increase the overall general fund budget by as much as $700,000 or so, for the county’s roughly 466 full-time and 30 part-time workers.

In late July, budget analyst Theresa Wagenman said the county department heads would be permitted to fill any vacancies that had been approved for the 2009 budget, which would bring the county closer to 500 employees without creating any new positions for the 2010 budget.

Aside from the wage considerations, Wagenman said, the county is expecting its budget to reflect at most a 2 percent growth in departmental operating costs over those budgeted for 2009.

The overall 2009 budget was set at $126 million in revenues, according to online budget documents. The figures included, among other things, a $25 million “contribution” from the Chevron oil company to rebuild County Road 204, which is heavily used by Chevron’s vehicles and heavy equipment, as well as plans for several significant building projects.

The county’s revenues had been steadily growing for several years, from $85 million in 2007, with $31.7 million in the general fund, to $95 million ($35 million general fund) in 2008, according to documents available on the county’s website.

The county is expecting a 30 percent drop in sales tax revenues for 2010, compared to 2009, but because sales taxes account for only about 7.5 percent of the county’s overall general fund budget, officials say the impact of the shortfall will be relatively minimal.

Property tax revenues are expected to increase for 2010, compared to 2009, but then to drop off sharply in 2011 due to drastic decreases in property values as a result of the current worldwide economic recession.

The reason the tax picture will not be affected until 2011 is because of a two-year lag-time built into Colorado’s tax structure. The fact that residential and commercial property values have been cut by the recession will not be felt in tax collections for another year and a half.

jcolson@postindependent.com