Still no cuts for Pitkin County, but decisions loom |

Still no cuts for Pitkin County, but decisions loom

John Colson
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Pitkin County’s fiscal wizards are poring over spread sheets and budgetary line items, searching for ways to trim the county’s expenses should it be required.

“We’re looking intently at every line item,” said county finance director John Redmond on Thursday.

But for now, the county continues to act on the assumptions that have been in place since late last year, when the current national and international recession started hitting local governments in the wallet.

For now, the county’s position is that it has pared its departmental budgets as much as possible. The county started scaling back in 2002, in reaction to an economic slump following the 9/11 terror attacks on the U.S., while building up a healthy surplus in a “rainy day” fund.

Officials feel the county is in a good position to take its time before making any decisions about slashing departmental budgets, despite the deep cuts that have been enacted by other governments in the valley in the face of shrinking revenues.

According to Redmond, officials are waiting for the state’s sales tax revenue report for February, which is due sometime in the middle of April.

Last month, when the figure for January came in, the county acknowledged the numbers were “worse than expected.” The lag time in the reporting period is due to the fact that the state collects sales taxes for the county, and must then send the appropriate percentages back to the county, which then parcels out some of the total to Aspen, Basalt and Snowmass Village.

Redmond said in March that the January sales tax receipts for the county represented a drop of more than 14 percent over the figures for January 2008. And the prior month’s receipts, in December 2008, were 15 percent lower than those of December 2007.

County officials had predicted in late 2008 that sales tax receipts, which make up roughly a third of the county’s income for a given year, would drop by 3 percent in 2009 compared to 2008.

A much larger drop was predicted for another of the county’s key revenue sources ” fees paid to the community development department. County budget officials projected the community development fees would decrease by 20 percent for the year.

The county’s budget is funded mainly by a combination of sales and use taxes (30 percent), property taxes (25 percent) and fees from the treasurer, community development department and clerk’s office, among other sources, Redmond said.

As approved last December, the county’s 2009 budget calls for revenues and expenditures of more than $23 million for what are termed core services, including the general fund for basic operations ($19.6 million), roads and bridges ($3.2 million) and social services ($957,500).

County Manager Hilary Fletcher has assured the Board of County Commissioners, and the general public, that the county enjoys roughly $13 million in surplus funds, so it can afford to wait until more is known about revenue decreases.

“We have scenarios that still allow us to not make dramatic reductions,” she said in March, explaining that the county has banked about $3 million in surplus revenues from previous years; $6 million in money informally earmarked for construction of new offices and other facilities; and $4 million “contingency funds” meant to provide a cushion against economic downturns.

Still, said Redmond this week, his office has been examining the books to see what can be cut, and what should be cut, if cuts become necessary after the February sales tax report comes in.

Fletcher could not be reached for comment.

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