Edwards roundabout, airport terminal highlight Eagle County’s 2019 budget
EAGLE — Motorists who regularly drive through Edwards won’t have to look far to see their county taxes at work next year.
As Eagle County prepares for its formal 2019 budget preparation Tuesday and final budget adoption on Dec. 11, one of the highlights of next year’s spending plan is construction of the long-awaited roundabout at U.S. Highway 6 and the Edwards Interstate 70 spur road. The project carries a $3.5 million price tag for a two-lane roundabout that will replace the traffic signal at the site.
“That project is going to go a long way toward solving safety and traffic concerns in that area,” Eagle County Manager Jeff Shroll said.
For the short term, however, Shroll noted roundabout construction will be disruptive next summer.
The same holds true for the big capital project at the Eagle County Regional Airport. The $21 million improvements project, which includes construction of a terminal ramp, began this year and will continue through 2019 with an anticipated 2020 opening. That project is being financed through certificates of participation issued by the county which will be repaid from revenue generated at the airport itself. And just as motorists will still have to drive through Edwards as the roundabout is built, passengers and airport workers will have to navigate the existing terminal as the expansion is completed.
“Next year, it’s going to be great when we can actually walk onto planes from the terminal, like other airports,” Shroll said.
As it looks to 2019, the county also is closing the books on its 2018 spending. The 2018 supplemental budget — including all county funds and the discretionary spending of the board of county commissioners — is slated for approval Wednesday. The supplemental budget figure for 2018 is $136.3 million in revenues and $161.6 million in expenses.
“The difference between revenues and expenses comes from the use of money saved in various capital accounts within specific funds to build or acquire assets,” said Eagle County Finance Director Jill Klosterman. “The most notable of these projects include $11 million toward the airport terminal remodel; $8 million toward the airport apron; $5 million toward the siding/windows/insulation project at Lake Creek Village; $4 million toward the Eagle to Horn Ranch Trail; $1.4 million in road overlays; $1.5 million in bus acquisitions; $2 million for a new building for our facilities department in Gypsum; $2.3 million toward vehicles and $1 million in space expansion/renovation of county facilities.”
For 2019, the county is budgeting $123.7 in revenue and $143 million in expenditures.
“The big contributors to the difference in revenue between 2018 and 2019 are a reduction in federal grants by $7 million, because we received a large grant in 2018 for the apron project at the airport; and a $2 million decrease toward our health insurance fund with the intent of reducing that excessive fund balance, which has built up over the past couple years of due to cost savings,” Klosterman said. “Included in 2019 expenses is $20 million remaining in the airport terminal project.”
Along with the airport expansion and the Edwards roundabout, new expenses in 2019 include $800,000 for renovations at the Eagle County administrative offices in Eagle and 18 new staff positions for various county offices.
The property taxes and sales tax make up nearly half of the county’s revenue. Next year’s property tax mill levy will remain the same and 2019 is not a reappraisal year. For county residents, that means the Eagle County portion of your property tax bill should be comparable with this year.
On the sales tax side, 2018 collections from January through September are $18.7 million.
“This is 5 percent above our 2017 year-to-date collections and 4 percent over our 2018 budget,” Klosterman said. “For 2019, we are budgeting a 1 percent increase over actual 2018 collections.”
The county budget also includes funding for priority programs and issues identified by the county commissioners as “strategic initiatives.” Some of these efforts have dedicated funding sources and others are financed from the county’s general fund.
This fall, Eagle County’s voters approved an extension of a 1.5 mill property tax to fund the open space program. The tax generates approximately $4.5 million per year, and funds collected are used to acquire, maintain and permanently preserve open space countywide. Last year, Eagle County voters approved a sales and excise tax for local marijuana operations with that money earmarked for mental health services. The county estimates marijuana tax collections will reach $510,000 in 2019 and $600,000 in 2020. To kickstart the mental health effort, last year the commissioners approved a one-time $400,000 contribution from the county’s general fund. For 2019, the county doesn’t anticipate another general fund contribution.
“The commissioners are in the mental health effort for the long haul,” Shroll said. “But it’s not like building a roundabout and then traffic gets better. This effort is going to take the involvement of the entire community.”
Early childhood education is another county priority that will receive $1.1 million in funding next year.
“The funding for early childhood includes $350,000 for infant and toddler subsidies for licensed providers who meet specific quality standards to help offset the high cost of providing that care; $250,000 for the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program — over and beyond our state allocation — to help offset the cost of child care for qualifying, working families; and $110,000 for salary supplements to help retain early childhood workforce professionals,” Klosterman said.
Projects that are part of the Eagle County Climate Action Plan will cost around $400,000 in 2019.
“Roof-top solar projects on the snow removal equipment building at the airport and the El Jebel annex will add two more net zero electric buildings to Eagle County’s portfolio, meaning they will produce as much electricity as they consume,” Klosterman said. “Our investment into local solar projects will make 100 percent of the electricity for Eagle County government operations come from local renewable energy sources. By doing so, we will achieve our overall organizational goal of a 50 percent greenhouse gas reduction by 2030 by 11 years early.”
The presentation of the 2019 Eagle County budget is scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Eagle County Building.
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Local fire officials in Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties are heightening their fire concerns, and starting this week Stage 1 fire restrictions will be enacted. Stage 1 means no campfires in undeveloped sites, no fireworks and no smoking outside unless it’s in an area cleared of all combustible materials.