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Montrose County Deputy Manager Jon Waschbusch raised his arms like a ref calling a score.

“ … it’s good,” Waschbusch said Wednesday, in discussing current revenue projections for the county’s 2020 budget.

“It looks like we will have a very good year,” County Manager Ken Norris said earlier, in launching the first presentation of the county’s draft budget for 2020. This is a preliminary document.

“We’ve tracked well financially. … Kind of the bottom line is, (for 2020) we showed a $46.2 million total fund balance. That’s kind of like money in the bank,” Norris said.

The ending fund balance is what is left in the county’s budget after expenditures, revenue and transfers out to other funds. This leftover amount is like a “report card,” Norris said, and the county feels good about the results. This amount will carry over to 2021.

Despite big-ticket expenditures affecting past budgets, like the new road and bridge facility and event center — a shade over $10 million each — the county remains in good shape,Norris said.

The county can take a look at renovating the historic courthouse in future years; it is currently midway through the design phase preceding an actual upgrade.

“We are postured to be able to go ahead and do good things for the county that will last for a long time,” Norris said.

The county’s total projected budget for 2020 right now is more than $83.3 million in revenue sources and $85.7 million in total uses.

Applying the carryover ending fund balance from 2019 to cover the $2.4 million difference between revenue and uses leaves a remaining ending fund balance of $42.6 million.

Operating revenues are projected to increase by $2.6 million over 2019, to $61.1 million.

2019 was a re-assessment year for valuations and saw an increase in preliminary assessed value of 12.1 percent; property tax collections will increase by $1.5 million in 2020.

The property tax levy will exceed the limits under the state’s revenue-capping constitutional amendment TABOR, meaning there will be a refund on property taxes in 2020, in the form of a credit mill levy, Assistant Finance Director Lanny Paulson said.

The county anticipates $1.9 million in grant funding for Montrose Regional Airport’s runway work and terminal expansion projects.

“Revenue projections are looking good for Montrose County,” Waschbusch said.

That’s in large part due to the increase in property values and, hence, property tax revenue, he said.

Growth is also projected in the public safety sales tax, as well as the road and bridge sales and use tax revenues.

The road and bridge fund is also projecting a net increase from the federal Highway Users Tax Fund and state FASTER funds in 2020.

That money is going to be spent to benefit taxpayers, Waschbusch said, including by paving 30 miles of roads next year.

“We’re definitely not sitting on our hands. Taxpayers expect that money to go back on the roads and it is, in a bigger fashion than before,” he said.

The Montrose Regional Airport continues to see record passenger numbers and again, is anticipating $1.9 million in grant revenue.

Of course, the county will also be spending money in 2020, Waschbusch said; the expenditures recommended today could decrease by the time the budget is finalized.

“What we’re presenting to day is more of the fully loaded option,” he said, adding it is better to include an expense and withdraw it, than to initially exclude it and later have to add it.

Personnel costs will increase by about $1 million, because of rising health insurance costs and because the budget envisions the option of 3 percent pay increases based on merit. It is is the county’s interest to keep its pay competitive, especially during a good economy when employees can find other jobs, Waschbusch said.

The draft budget includes 2.5 full-time equivalent employees, but the county will shed some employees through attrition.

Sales and use tax collections for 2020 are projected at $15.3 million, $600,000 more than revised projections for 2019.

That’s a projected increase of 4 percent in the public safety sales tax; 4 percent for the road and bridge sales tax and 5 percent for the road and bridge use tax and an on current receipts.

Steady growth year over year is helping boost the numbers since 2008’s recession Finance Director Cindy Dunlap said.

Even more sales tax revenue could come in during 2020, because of a new law that went into effect Oct. 1, allowing local entities to collect sales taxes on online activity. Right now, the county does not know what those numbers will look like.

“That might give us a good bump we hadn’t even accounted for,” Norris said later Wednesday.

The draft budget also includes about $15 million in capital expenditures and a recommended $19.4 million in inter-fund transfers — the transfer of available, unrestricted funds from one accounting fund to another.

The county uses a long-range financial plan, on a five-year basis, with annual projections to see where numbers are trending. The county’s model is designed to ensure that the general fund won’t fall below 50 percent of fund balance. Other funds maintain months-worth of reserves to provide a cushion.

Commissioner and board chairwoman Sue Hansen said the commissioners’ job is to focus on core county services. She thanked for their ongoing interest “citizen watchdogs” Ron Henderson, Dennis Olmstead, Jim Anderson and Dee Laird, the latter three of whom offered thoughts on the current draft budget following the presentation.

Norris thanked county staff for their work and commissioners for creating the environment making the work possible.

Department heads will be meeting with commissioners in the coming weeks to review departmental budgets, outside funding requests and the capital plan.

The finalized budget is to be presented to the commissioners between Nov. 25 and Dec. 10. A public hearing to adopt the budget is Dec. 11. The budget is due to the state by Jan. 31, 2020.

Commissioner Roger Rash urged the public to attend the forthcoming budget meeting and also seek out information. “You can see everything we do and I’m proud of that,” he said.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer.

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