Pitkin County faces budget uncertainty | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County faces budget uncertainty

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Pitkin County, like local governments and taxing districts around the state, is trying to prepare a 2011 budget based on circumstances that could change drastically, depending on the actions of Colorado voters in November.

Three statewide initiatives, Proposition 101, Amendment 60 and Amendment 61, could affect the county’s general fund and the budgets of the airport, landfill, the open space program and the library, depending on which measures, or combination of measures, win voter approval.

According to a memo to county commissioners from the county’s finance staff, the three initiatives “combine to reduce tax and fee revenue, and impose restraints that will make financing of public facilities difficult and expensive.”

The November election could produce eight different scenarios, ranging from the passage of all three initiatives to the defeat of all three measures, or something in between.

The county’s finance staff will brief commissioners on the scenarios Tuesday and seek guidance on how to prepare a contingency budget, said John Redmond, finance director.

Of the eight possible scenarios, Redmond is suggesting the county brace for the passage of Amendment 60 and rejection of the other two initiatives, and prepare a contingency budget that reflects its impacts.

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“Word on the street that we’re hearing is if there’s any chance that something could pass, 60 could go,” Redmond said. “Just from what I’ve heard, the other two aren’t so much of a slam dunk.”

Nothing, he added, is certain.

Amendment 60 would impact county mill levies that have been “deBruced” – ones that are allowed to take in more property tax revenues than state constitutional limits would otherwise allow, as property values rise. The measure would roll back what the mill levies can take in to pre-deBrucing levels.

The measure would impact the Healthy Communities fund, which helps pay for health and human services, plus the library, Open Space and Trails, and translator funds. All have dedicated mill levies that local voters have released from the limits imposed by TABOR, or the Taxpayers Bill of Rights.

The Open Space and Trails fund would take the biggest hit, losing about $6.6 million of the $12.2 million it took in this year, according to Redmond.

The Healthy Communities fund would lose about $195,000 from the $1.4 million it took in this year. Library property tax revenues, totaling about $3 million this year, would drop by close to $260,000.

If Amendment 60 passes, it will be up to commissioners to decide if the county should cover any of the money the funds would lose.

Shoring up the Healthy Communities fund would probably get a close look, Redmond predicted, whereas Open Space and Trails wouldn’t likely get an infusion from the contingency fund of unspent dollars.

“The board would be more prone, I think, to fund a shortfall in human services,” he said. “That would come up.”

The amendment will also require that the airport and landfill, which are self-supporting enterprises, pay property taxes, Redmond said.

Proposition 101, which would reduce vehicle taxes and fees if it passes, would deliver a hit to the general fund, which funds basic county services.

The total reduction to the general fund is estimated at $1.8 million, according to Redmond.

Amendment 61, if it passes, would require taxing districts to adjust their mill levies downward as debt is paid off. Over time, the measure would impact Open Space and Trails, he said.

Both Amendments 60 and 61 would affect general fund revenues, as well, but that impact hasn’t been calculated. Treasurer’s fees are paid as part of the collection of taxes; if tax collections go down because the amendments pass, so would the fees, Redmond explained.

Those fees help support the general fund, he said.

janet@aspentimes.com