Routt County to spend $18 million more in 2022 than in 2021
Routt County plans to spend $18 million more in 2022 than it did this year — an increase of about 26% — fueled in part by revenues coming in well above where they were initially budgeted for this year.
With just over a month left in the year, Routt County is projecting it will collect about $5 million more than anticipated through various sales and use taxes, allowing next year’s budget to spend about $9 million more than it expects to bring in.
The Routt County Board of Commissioners will vote on next year’s budget in December, but county officials presented the proposed budget brief last week, after a weekslong process of reviewing every aspect of county spending.
The additional spending next year is largely due to $14.1 million devoted to constructing the county’s new Health and Human Services building, which broke ground last month.
“I’ve been involved in a lot of governmental projects building new capital assets, this is the first one I’ve ever been involved in that we didn’t have to float a bond,” Commissioner Tim Redmond said. “I think that speaks volumes of the fiscal responsibility of my predecessors.”
Without yet factoring in property taxes, county revenue is projected to be up 34% this year. Sales taxes are the biggest boon, beating projections by about $2.5 million, in part due to taxes paid on online purchases, which started in 2020. Redmond said this was a lifesaver, especially when there were restrictions on gathering earlier this year.
“I think what worked for most government entities in our area is that we anticipated taking a hard smack in sales tax,” Redmond said. “But we started collecting internet sales tax, and it was an unexpected boost and really backfilled a lot of areas.”
Building use taxes, paid on construction projects, are up more than 200%, and auto use taxes, paid when buying a car, are up by 67%. Clerk fees are 70% higher than projected, as well, as people take care of car registration and other things they let slide in 2020.
Another revenue increase is the Yampa Valley Regional Airport, which made the county $2.3 million this year and should make the same if not more in 2022, as it is set to have a record number of passengers.
After the unexpected windfall in revenue this year, Routt County Finance Director Dan Strnad said he went through each aspect of revenue and tried to gauge whether the increased revenues from larger volumes of car sales, a local construction boom and pandemic online shopping would continue.
“We’re still dealing with this COVID thing; we still don’t understand what a pandemic necessarily means to us,” Strnad said.
Shifting to expenses, Routt County plans to spend just over $87 million next year while still maintaining a reserve fund of nearly $53 million. These reserves are dedicated to costs the county already plans to make over the next 20 years.
Long-term budget forecasts calculate anticipated general fund, road and bridge, human services and E911 communications expenses and show the county has enough reserves for the budget to be balanced through 2041, where last year, it had only been balanced out 16 years, Strnad said.
The largest portion of reserves is for work at the Yampa Valley Regional Airport ($18.5 million), followed by replacing equipment around the county ($11 million) and planned road work in the next two decades ($5.7 million).
County personnel are the largest expense, taking up about $31.6 million, or 37%, of the total budget. Next largest are capital upgrades like the new building and 44 miles of county roads slated for work next year, costing $28.7 million, or 33%, of the total. Operational costs come to about $23.5 million, or 27%, with much smaller amounts slated for infrastructure and debt service.
This will be the first year the county will have a full-time grant administrator, and grant funding is a large part of many of the county’s expenses. Grants help fund master planning, preparing for the transition away from coal and studying feasibility of regional transit and a county-owned child care facility, among others.
The county also is partnering with the city of Steamboat Springs on several efforts like the Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan, the countywide climate action plan and feasibility studies to look at building a hard-to-recycle location and to better recover organics.
The county is also investing in itself in 2022 to better retain and recruit its workforce when the labor market is so short.
An additional $2.5 million has been set aside to accommodate potential changes following a salary survey, which is assessing the equity of pay for every job in the county. The county is also spending a combined $400,000 on better health benefits, dental coverage and a retirement plan that starts on day one for employees.
“I think that goes along with our priorities of being a good place to work,” Redmond said. “I was a little concerned honestly when I got here and started to see some of the turnover in the county because I have always considered these to be some of the best jobs.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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