Pitkin County gives initial nod to budget | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County gives initial nod to budget

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

ASPEN – Pitkin County commissioners gave initial approval Tuesday to a 2011 budget that reflects $17.6 million in spending for county government, after voicing objections to the district attorney’s budget and despite concerns about lagging revenues associated with building and construction.

A second reading and public hearing on the budget is scheduled Dec. 15. Establishing the tax levies for all the taxing districts within the county will occur Dec. 17.

The county’s general fund budget, which includes general county services, social services, and road and bridge costs, reflects a freeze on employee wages for a second year, but no layoffs.

Commissioners did agree to two proposed additional positions – an administrative assistant at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport and a seasonal ranger for Open Space and Trails, but both of those departments are self-sustaining. Open Space and Trails has its own, separate property tax, and the airport is funded through fee-based revenues.

A fitness/wellness benefit and bus passes for employees were also added back into the general fund budget, at a total cost of $206,443. Among the other add-ons OK’d by commissioners is $17,758 to stream commissioner meetings over the Internet.

All county departments financed by the general fund were asked to cut their budgets by 5 percent; some were successful and others did not reach that goal, but District Attorney Martin Beeson told the commissioners the cut was not possible.

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Pitkin County’s contribution to the three-county DA budget in the 9th Judicial District will be $618,876, based on its population. The sum is up 3.2 percent from 2010.

Beeson said he couldn’t cut Pitkin County’s allocation without doing the same for Garfield and Rio Blanco counties, which would leave his office unable to fulfill its duties.

“As far as I know, no single department within the county said, ‘We won’t reduce our budget at all. We won’t consider it,'” said Commissioner Michael Owsley, calling on commissioners to cut the county’s contribution to the DA’s budget.

“We won’t control where those cuts come from,” Commissioner Rachel Richards responded, voicing reluctance to take that step.

“I think we need to handle it in a different manner than just calling him up and saying, ‘By the way, we’ve cut your budget,'” Commissioner Patti Clapper said.

Commissioners agreed to send a letter to Beeson warning him that his allocation from Pitkin County may be frozen at the 2011 level in future years.

On the revenue side, Finance Director John Redmond recommended keeping an eye on fees collected by the Community Development Department for the next couple of months to see if a downward slide continues. The department is on track to collect about $200,000 less than was budgeted this year. Over the next five years, that sort of shortfall would amount to more than $1 million.

“It is of concern to me,” Redmond said.

If it continues, staff cuts would be necessary to offset the shortfall in revenue, he said.

Permit applications in 2010 have been down, and some applicants who begin the permit process, paying for a site-plan review, don’t follow through with actually obtaining the permit, which triggers other fee payments, according to Cindy Houben, community development director.

“Getting that money when a permit is actually issued has stalled out,” she said.

During Tuesday’s discussion, Owsley also called attention to the county’s road and bridge capital fund, which totals slightly more than $400,000. He called the sum “woefully inadequate” to keep up the county’s roads and bridges and pressed commissioners to again ask voters to support a tax to fund the road infrastructure.

“People appreciate good roads. They just have difficulty paying for them,” he said.

janet@aspentimes.com