Pitkin County passes $71M budget | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County passes $71M budget

Joel Stonington

Pitkin County Commissioners gave preliminary approval to a $71 million budget for 2006 this week, with a public hearing and final approval set for Dec. 21.The 2006 budget represents a $4 million increase from the $67 million budget for 2005. The county is projecting an $862,471 surplus in 2006, though annual deficits are projected to begin in 2007 and run up to $3,083,471 over the next five years.”Our expenses are increasing at a higher rate than what revenues are increasing at,” said Tom Jagow, the county staff member responsible for the budget.There is also concern that the Health and Human Services/Community Nonprofit Fund property tax expires in 2006. This year, Pitkin County used the fund to contribute $736,399 to 42 service agencies and nonprofits, after kicking in $200,400 in 2004 emergency funding to 10 health and human-services organizations that lost federal and state support.”If [the Health and Human Services Fund] is renewed, then it will relieve much of the pressure on the deficit,” Jagow said. “Long-term, though, there will be a deficit unless we make additional changes to reduce costs.” County officials have indicated they will ask for an extension of that tax. Regardless, projected revenue increases (7 percent in 2005, 5 percent in 2006, and 3.5 percent thereafter) would not keep up with higher anticipated costs of health insurance, fuel, utility and asphalt, officials said. There was a 67 percent increase in health insurance premiums for the county this year, according to Pitkin County. Roughly $15 million of the general fund budget is discretionary spending that covers such things as roads and bridges, social services and administration. The remainder is dedicated funding of such programs as the county library, airport and the county’s share of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus system. This week’s budget discussion included 10 supplemental requests for the 2006 budget from the Open Space and Trails Department, totaling more than $4 million. All but one were approved. The supplemental requests were mostly for trail improvements, maintenance and paving, as well as new bathrooms and funds for an administrative assistant. A proposal to pave the Rio Grande Trail from Pitkin Iron to McLain Flats Road did not win the commissioners’ approval, primarily because it would have cost $200,000. In nearly every decision on the supplemental appropriations, Commissioner Jack Hatfield either voted “no” or abstained.”I don’t want to spend $4.2 million on trails,” he said. “I’m concerned about open space and how it was presented today. We’re just doing the wrong thing, and that’s why I’m voting no.”Commissioner Michael Owsley also expressed concerns about the supplemental spending, saying he did not see a great need for paving so many miles of trails. Commissioner Mick Ireland said there is a great need for permanent funding for the entire trail system. Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is jstonington@aspentimes.com