Sales tax boom allows sizable increase to proposed Pitkin County budget
With a significant projected increase in sales tax revenue, Pitkin County’s proposed budget for 2022 represents a 14% increase over 2021, which was stained by COVID-19 uncertainty.
“There’s a lot of good news in this,” Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock told commissioners at their regular weekly work session Tuesday. “We’ve weathered the COVID pandemic very, very well. Not only have revenues recovered from the disruptions of 2020, but they’ve grown beyond our projections.”
The sales tax numbers — up 28% over 2020 through the end of July — are the real driver behind the increased budget, though revenue in all of the myriad dedicated funds that pay for the cost of government — transit, open space and trails, human services, road and bridge, etc. — are projected to increase by more than 11%, Peacock said.
In turn, the increased revenue will pay for expenses that were deferred the past two pandemic-affected years, including more than $2 million to finish the Pitkin County Courthouse renovation, $3.25 million for road maintenance projects and salary increases for county employees whose wages were frozen last year.
“The year over year increases in both revenues and appropriations may appear high but are reflective of the two previous budgets (2020 and 2021) that were either reductions or flat to previous years due to concerns about recession,” Peacock wrote in a memo to commissioners.
Pitkin County’s overall budget for all funds for 2022 is projected to be $161.7 million, a $20 million, or 14%, increase over last year. Most of the money in the budget comes from various tax mills earmarked for particular areas like the ambulance district, the healthy community fund or the library, which together are expected to grow 11.2%.
Money collected in those funds will go toward repaving Brush Creek Road, repairing East Sopris Creek Road and installing an overlay on Gerbaz Way. It will contribute $13.3 million to the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, $6 million toward Snowmass Village’s new transit center and $3.3 million to improvements at the Brush Creek park-and-ride lot.
The money for a $650,000 solar installation at the Pitkin County landfill will come from the the dedicated funds as well, while hundreds of thousands in Rio Grande Trail improvements, a $700,000 bridge between Aspen Village and the Rio Grande Trail and more than $500,000 in improvements to Redstone Park also will be paid for through the dedicated funds, according to Tuesday’s budget presentation.
Most core government services are paid for by the county’s general fund, which is budgeted at $37.5 million in 2022. That’s a nearly 15% increase over the initial 2021 general fund budget of more than $31.5 million.
The money for the general fund comes from property taxes, sales tax, investment income and community development fees. Revenue for 2021 from those four areas, which were estimated at $35 million, is expected to come at a little more than $41 million, while 2022 revenue is expected to reach $41.5 million.
County staff are predicting that sales tax numbers will finish the year with an increase of 18% over 2020, though those numbers will slow in 2022 and are predicted to be 4.2% less than 2021, according to Peacock’s memo.
With record-setting real estate sales in 2020, community development fees in 2020 hit an all-time high of $8.2 million, which was $4 million more than budgeted. Those fees are expected to decrease 21% in 2021 to $6.5 million, though that is still 6.4% higher than 2019.
Two new large expenses in the 2022 budget that will come out of the general fund include $101,000 for body cameras and software for all Pitkin County sheriff’s deputies, which is mandated by a new state law. That law also will require a new full-time sheriff’s office employee to manage the body camera data, according to the budget presentation.
Finally, the county is budgeting a 5.5% increase in wage and benefit increases for county employees. Wages and benefits were mostly frozen for 2020 and 2021 but are budgeted to increase by about $2 million in 2022 that will be split between cost-of-living increases, market adjustments and compliance with pay equity.
County commissioners will hold budget hearings throughout October and November with various departments and are set to adopt the adjusted budget Dec. 15.
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