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The Montrose County draft budget for 2019 calls for a $4 million jail upgrade to increase holding-cell capacity for medical and related observation purposes.

The proposed budget also entails $500,000 — as an anticipated annual operating expense — to increase the number of in-house medical hours, including for mental health, from 16 a day to 20.

“The jail has been pretty marginal for several years and we feel it’s time to do a minor upgrade on the jail,” Montrose County Manager Ken Norris said Wednesday, during a public presentation of the draft 2019 budget.

The draft budget was crafted through consultation with department heads and is one of the first steps in the annual budgeting process.

Montrose County commissioners will continue to review and likely will revise the budget before submitting a final document for a public hearing, approving it, and submitting it to the state, as required by law.

The proposed budget started with a previous ending fund balance of $47.8 million and projects $77.2 million in total sources (including transfers between funds in the budget). Total uses are projected at $83.2 million, which would leave an ending fund balance of $41.8 million.

Overall, the projected ending balance for all funds is a significant drop from 2018’s ending fund balance of $47.82 million — but the latter figure reflects the revised, final budget numbers for this year, while the proposed 2019 budget is a draft projection.

“In the 2018 manager’s recommended budget last year, we had projected an ending fund balance of $41.9 million. It looks like now, we’re going to do $6 million better than that that,” Norris said Thursday.

“All of the departments are working hard to do better in our budget in 2019.”

Excluding transfers between funds within the budget, total revenue for 2019 is projected at $60.8 million, about 6.7 percent less than the revised revenue projection for 2018.

This is in part due to the conclusion of federal grant funding for Montrose Regional Airport projects. Capital funding sources for the airport will therefore decrease by more than $4 million.

Total expenditures, again excluding transfers between funds, are projected at $66.8 million for 2019, about $2.8 million less than the revised 2018 budget.

Each fund within the budget has different restrictions on how it can be used — the sales and use tax for road and bridge can only be used for road and bridge, for example, Assistant Finance Director Lanny Paulson said.

Operating revenues are projected to bump up a tiny bit, by 0.6 percent, but are “relatively flat,” primarily because of the airport grant’s conclusion.

Montrose County collects a sales tax for public safety operations, as well as a sales and use tax for road and bridge. The 2019 budget projects an overall 4.5-percent growth rate in these collections, compared with 2018.

Norris on Wednesday spoke of a “windfall” to the road and bridge fund — $1.2 million in 2018 from the Highway Users Trust Fund (money from gas tax). The county does not expect such a windfall in 2019, but is projecting to receive an additional $325,000 above the $5 million that it would normally receive from HUTF.

Projected operating expenditures are about 2.5 percent greater than this year’s budget, with personnel costs increasing about 6.5 percent.

This increase is for eight additional full-time equivalent employees, a proposed 4 percent for salary and wage adjustments and a 5.5-percent increase in the benefit allowance for health insurance.

“This line item will get a lot more scrutiny by the commissioners,” Norris said.

Proposed changes include two field maintenance techs and one firefighter at the airport; a half-time administrative support person; one more maintenance worker for the Montrose County Events Center; a half-time custodial position and an adult protective services supervisor in Health and Human Services.

The budget also proposes eliminating the county attorney position, but continuing the contract for services and hiring an additional assistant attorney.

As well, it recommends adding a seasonal/temporary tractor driver position for the Events Center and transferring two custodial positions from the facilities department to the airport.

Expenditures unrelated to personnel are projected at $21.3 million, including $500,000 for more medical services at the jail.

“That’s kind of an operating expense that will go on year after year,” Norris said.

Again, the money is to increase the number of hours of medical provider services at the jail.

The $4 million for the jail upgrade is a capital expense. The county wants to expand the booking area at the jail to provide more holding cells where deputies can continually monitor people for medical issues and intoxication, Norris said.

This requires reconfiguring the current booking area and would also create “safe cells” in which to keep inmates experiencing mental health or other crises.

To do it, the jail will have to convert existing office space, then repurpose existing kitchen space to replace offices, then in turn replace the kitchen, Norris said.

The proposed expenditures allow for an increase in behavioral health counseling and medical staffing, as well as an overall facility upgrade, Montrose County Commissioner Keith Caddy said Wednesday, in response to citizen questions.

“That’s one thing we as a county need to do, is service them better,” he said.

“We’re working on it as we speak,” Sheriff Rick Dunlap said Thursday, referring to the facility changes.

“I don’t know when it will come to fruition, but it’s an inside remodel. It’s definitely going to add some help for those corrections officers back there.”

Another capital project proposed in the 2019 draft budget is floor repair at the airport.

A portion of the floor in the terminal is sinking and it’s time to “get things squared away,” Norris said Wednesday.

The county is seeking grant funding, but cannot assume it will be awarded enough, he said.

The jail and airport issues are part of $17.1 million in total capital expenditures proposed for the 2019 budget.

Property tax collections for 2019 are projected to increase just 0.4 percent over 2018, which was not a reassessment year.

Colorado counties conduct a reappraisal of property values every two years, which is based on sales market data from two years prior.

Next year, though, the state assessment rate for residential property will drop from 7.2 percent to 6.1 percent, owing to provisions in the Gallagher Amendment to the Colorado constitution.

The plunge is affecting special taxing districts, such as Montrose Fire Protection, but will also hit the county, Paulson said.

The decrease in residential assessment rate is expected to reduce by $900,000 the net property taxes collected by the county.

“That’s a significant blow to our general fund model,” Paulson said.

The general fund is the largest fund type in the county budget, into which goes the lion’s share of revenue. It is the only fund from which money can be transferred to other funds. The lower net property tax revenue will have an impact, Norris said.

County staff and department heads will spend the next several weeks refining the proposed budget, which will be presented at a public hearing Dec. 12 (time and location to be arranged) for possible adoption.

The final budget must be submitted to the state by Jan. 31, 2019.

Commissioners will be carefully reviewing the draft document and developing more questions throughout the process, Caddy said.

“We’re only beginning,” he said.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is an award-winning journalist and the senior writer for the Montrose Daily Press. Follow her on Twitter @kathMDP.

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