County’s reserves questioned
The more than $25 million Routt County has in reserves means one of two things to resident Fred Wolf: The county is collecting too much in taxes or — his preferred reasoning — the county is not spending enough.
Wolf presented those concerns, which he has expressed to the county in previous years, at Tuesday night’s public meeting about the county’s 2005 proposed budget. He was one of two residents who attended the meeting.
County commissioners responded that they think, and have heard from other residents, that it is smart to budget revenues in such a way that lets the county provide for future needs without taking on a lot of debt.
It is appropriate for government to take on debt to some extent, Wolf said, because that allows current residents to pay for current services and improvements. The county’s philosophy of setting aside funds to pay for future needs means residents who are paying county taxes now may not see the full benefit from their taxes.
“I don’t think I should pay for the next road grader — I think my kids should pay for the next road grader,” Wolf said.
Instead of setting so much money aside, the county could be using those funds for current needs, such as road improvements, he said.
“Fairly frequently, the community hears from the commissioners that we can’t do ‘x’… because it’s not in the budget or we don’t have the money,” Wolf said. “And that’s where I disagree with you.”
Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said she has talked with other residents about various philosophies about how much the county should keep in reserves and that those residents agree with the county.
“What I heard from the citizens that spoke to me was that they like the philosophy we (have),” Stahoviak said. Stahoviak participated in the meeting through a conference call; she is recovering from having knee surgery Monday.
“They like that planning for the future, and they don’t want us to go into debt every time we buy a piece of equipment,” she said.
Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said Wolf’s message was heard last year and that the county has made some changes, such as taking on debt in 2005 to pay for part of the new justice center, and not setting aside enough money to fully fund replacements of equipment and other future needs.
As the county faces a big year involving two large-scale capital projects — building a new justice center and expanding Yampa Valley Regional Airport — Monger said he thinks it’s best to wait a little longer before considering a shift in the county’s finance philosophy.
Routt County Finance Director Dan Strnad said the county’s reserves should decrease by about half in the next few years as the county funds those projects and others.
Wolf was one of two residents who attended the meeting. The other, Stuart Handloff, asked county commissioners for more information about the county’s plans for chip-and-sealing roads. That issue has sparked controversy in recent months with bicyclists complaining that the size of rock the county uses for the road treatment is too big and makes riding less safe. County commissioners responded that they plan to chip-and-seal most roads in 2005 with a smaller rock to see what the benefits and costs are.
Routt County commissioners are scheduled to adopt their 2005 budget Dec. 14.
— To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail email@example.com
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