Routt County releases 2021 budget, sees surprising $7M increase in revenue despite pandemic
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Routt County released its proposed 2021 budget Wednesday reflecting an increase in both revenue and expenditures for the county as it plans for another uncertain year during a pandemic.
The new budget includes about $4.5 million in additional spending when compared to the previous year. But revenues increased as well by nearly $7 million from the prior year.
“We’re stable; we’re doing good,” Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said. “I mean, we are still unpredictable as heck based on what might happen with continued COVID, but right now, we have adequate reserves to hold us through the worst of it.”
Building the budget during a pandemic was difficult simply because officials did not know what effect it would have, said Dan Strnad, the county’s finance director. Surprisingly, county revenues increased overall, buoyed in part by increases in sales and building taxes.
The county budget uses a pay-as-you-go system where the county sets aside money for planned expenses. Based on the roughly $52 million in reserves the county has, they project a balanced budget through 2037.
Commissioners devised the budget around several priorities wanting it to reflect their desire to maintain strong financial health, a high quality workforce, a healthy community, enhanced public safety and an updated master plan while still focusing on environmental stewardship.
The budget sets aside $2 million to cover part of the cost of the county’s new health and human services building, which could start construction in late 2021. Other funds needed to meet the anticipated $6.5 million price tag will be allocated in next year’s budget.
The 2021 spending plan also included about $667,000 to fully fund the Public Health Department with full-time staff as well as some additional part-time contact tracers. Some of the funding for the department has come from COVID-19-related grants.
One thing commissioners did not budget for was additional spending related to the virus, saying that any added spending will be funded through grants the county can get or through reserves.
“Any money that we end up having to spend between now and whenever is going to be basically coming out of our reserves,” Monger said.
Commissioners are planning to invest $800,000 in a new Emergency Operations Command Center for the county, part of the budget focused on increasing public safety. Another roughly $170,000 will allow the county to hire two new 911 dispatchers to meet an increase in call volumes.
When it comes to the environment, almost $600,000 will be used to invest in a solar panel project at the Yampa Valley Regional Airport that will eventually provide a portion of the facility’s energy. Another $52,000 is being used to continue supporting the Yampa River water quality program and to fund air quality monitoring sites used by the Purple Air app.
The county also will give all qualified employees a 2.1% cost-of-living raise, totaling about $715,000. Updating the county’s master plan process will resume in 2021 after being delayed because of COVID-19 and will cost about $200,000, with half of that cost being funded by a state grant.
In June, county commissioners instructed department heads to look for ways to decrease expenses while maintaining services, anticipating revenue shortfalls.
“At that point and time, we didn’t have a lot of information or no information about what a pandemic does,” Strnad said.
They suggested not filling open positions, limiting travel expenses and reducing the number of outside consultants used, hoping to do more tasks in house. The cuts suggested by department heads ended up saving the county about $350,000.
But Strnad said they were surprised when they saw the revenue numbers during the pandemic.
“As far as what we had thought was going to happen with some of these revenues, basically the exact opposite almost happened,” Strnad said.
Strnad said county officials had anticipated depreciated sales tax numbers similar to what happened during the 2008 recession, but during the pandemic, the county saw about an 8% increase in sales tax revenue. He attributed that to changes in how the county collects sales tax on internet transactions and online short-term rentals as well as increased sales on things like alcohol, marijuana and home improvement materials.
The county also saw a 71% increase in revenue from building use taxes because of increased construction, Strnad said. The county also has seen upticks in revenue from taxes collected from car and real estates sales in the county.
“This COVID was detrimental to us in a certain extent, but in one way, these people showed up here to recreate and do whatever even though we didn’t have any events,” Strand said. “We did see quite a strong increase in revenues.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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