Routt County budget for 2023 makes investments in staff, climate resiliency
The proposed 2023 Routt County budget will see a slight increase compared to 2022, as commissioners emphasize the need to invest in the county‘s workforce.
In addition to a 7% cost of living adjustment that comes with a $2 million price tag, the county has worked to increase starting and on-call pay, as well as making key changes to internal systems benefiting employees and investing in additional training and wellness opportunities for staff.
Personnel costs account for 41%, or $36.5 million, of the entire budget.
“The essence of local government is providing services to the community,” said Commissioner Beth Melton. “You can’t really do that without people.”
The budget invests in public safety by adding a deputy at the sheriff’s office and funding development of a wildfire protection plan, community health with additional staff in the environmental health department and climate resiliency with electric vehicles, among others.
Melton said the investments regarding climate — $170,000 for EV chargers, $150,000 for energy use upgrades and $75,000 to implement the Climate Action Plan — are items that wouldn’t have been included in the budget five years ago.
“The commissioners have said this is a priority, and we want to be able to show it in our budget,” Melton said. “We can talk about climate action all day, but in the end, if you don’t see it in the budget, it’s hard to argue you are doing anything.”
Routt County intends to spend nearly $89 million next year, a $2 million increase over the current year’s budget and the second year in a row where the county plans to spend more revenue that it projects to take in.
Still, those revenue projections have come up short of what the county is actually collecting in recent years, and County Finance Director Dan Strnad said Routt County is on track to collect more in revenue this year than what it is projected to collect next year.
“We actually increased our sales tax (projections) by like 26%,” Strnad said. “That seems like a lot, but we’re still below where we are projected to be at the end of 2022 by about 9%. … I think we’re in a good financial position.”
Property taxes account for the largest portion of county revenues at about 31%. Fees for services total about 21%, federal funding 20% and sales taxes 16%.
The county will still have roughly $65 million in reserves, which is expected to provide for a balanced budget over the next 20 years. Routt County utilizes a unique financial system that puts money away for future expenses such as road maintenance or equipment replacement over time.
“It makes our job easier because we’re not trying to figure out where to come up with $12 million to pave roads,” Melton said.
This leads to a somewhat elastic amount of reserves, with reserves expected to peak in 2035 before seeing a steep decline the next two years when a significant number of county roads will be milled and overlaid.
Next year, the county will spend about $2.5 million to chip seal 31 miles of road and overlay another 5 miles, which equates to upgrades on about 23% of roads owned by the county. Another $775,000 is being allocated to replace the Trout Creek Bridge on Routt County Road 179, though about $620,000 of that is coming from grant funding.
The county plans to make significant investments in wastewater treatment infrastructure by replacing plants in Milner and Phippsburg, which are expected to cost $3.5 million and $4.1 million, respectively. Some of this funding will come from pandemic relief dollars allocated to the county.
The Yampa Valley Regional Airport is expected to have a net income of about $2.4 million next year. That is on top of nearly $22 million in COVID-19 related grants the airport has received in recent years, which has helped accelerate the timeline on planned upgrades. Much of the grant money is being held in reserves to spend on future projects.
“As long as there continues to be increases in people coming through, in airlines, the number of flights, there’s always going to be places to improve the airport,” Melton said. “Looking at a terminal expansion is next on the list.”
Routt County Commissioners will hold a public hearing on the proposed budget at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 22, in the commissioners hearing room at the historic Routt County Courthouse in downtown Steamboat. On Dec. 6, commissioners are expected to consider adopting the budget.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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