After a tough week, the Commissioners are ready to continue to move forward in the planning of the 2021 budget. Budgets were due to the Budget Department from each county department today, September 4. Over the next several weeks, the Budget Director will put together a proposed budget due by October 15. Work sessions and in-depth discussions between the board will take place October 19-November 20, with a final budget adoption on December 15. Preliminary revenue figures suggest the County will face an approximate budget deficit of at least $2.3 million in 2021 compared to 2020.
The regular budget timeline had a bit of a disruption this week as the Commissioners were met with strong opposition at a meeting on Monday from the Sheriff's office as well as many community members regarding the news that the RBC Communications (dispatch) Center was being looked into as one of the many possible places to make cuts.
The Monday meeting resulted in the Commissioners directing county staff to draft a question that could be added to the November ballot asking for a 1% sales tax increase to be dedicated to dispatch functions. The deadline to add any ballot question was September 4th at 5:00pm, which left county and town staff scrambling. The Commissioners held a joint special meeting on the evening of September 3rd at 7pm with the Town of Rangely and the Town of Meeker to discuss the proposed ballot question. At the start of the meeting, Town of Rangely Mayor Andy Shaffer let the group know that the Rangely Town Board had just completed their 6pm meeting and had voted unanimously against the idea of putting the 1% increase on the November ballot. Mayor Kent Borchard asked the County Attorney Todd Starr if it would be possible to continue without the support from the Town of Rangely. After much back and forth, it was determined that the Commissioners could not move forward with adding the question to the November 2020 ballot without support from both towns. Commissioner Rector suggested that the question be tabled for now and potentially added to the ballot in November of 2021, after having more time to negotiate and to proceed thoughtfully. The meeting ended with a question from Meeker Mayor Kent Borchard asking the Commissioners, “Can I take what you said to mean that you are going to fully fund the Rio Blanco County Communication Center for 2021?” Commissioner Rector answered, “No, we’re going to ask for your support.” To which Mayor Borchard replied, “We’re perfectly willing to do that as we always are.” Rector followed up with, “Everything is on the table so we’re going to ask for that. I think this is one of those points where everyone is going to have to put their money where their mouth is.”
On Friday, Gary Moyer expressed his disappointment in the outcome of the meeting. “I was disappointed that the two towns were not able to come to an equitable solution or agreement with the county on how the funds would be distributed should the ballot question pass. In light of the public pressure on Monday, hearing and recognizing the public sentiment from that meeting, we very much supported asking the voters whether or not they were truly willing to pay more to keep the same level of services coming from the Rio Blanco County Communications Center. We were asked in that meeting on Monday to let the public decide, so that's what we were hoping to do. We’ll be continuing our budget discussions over the next several weeks and will continue to look for other places to cut. There will be many people unhappy no matter what decisions we make, we realize that. Unfortunately, these additional cuts will affect other departments and all of our employees, friends and neighbors. We don’t want to do this more than anyone else, believe me, but we can’t pretend this budget problem is temporary. This isn’t like it has been in the past, we aren’t expecting another boom cycle. I’m committed to meeting the $2.3 million dollar cut, somehow, as I don’t think it’s responsible for us to delay the inevitable and use reserves. If we don’t address these issues now, future Commissioners will be left with a mess.”
“We started budget discussions early this year, basically in February, because we knew we were going to have to make some significant changes. We’ve already met many times one-on-one with each department and with the Budget and Finance Director and I have been scouring over every expense. We still have a lot of work to do in the next several weeks, and no matter what decisions we make, it’s not going to be pretty,” stated Jeff Rector on Friday.
THE IMPORTANCE OF RESERVES
As it stands right now, the general fund expenditures are about $900,000 per month. Per county policy, twelve months of working capital is required to be kept in the general fund at all times. This ensures the county is able to meet cash flow needs year-round, and in the event there were an emergency and revenue stopped coming in, the county would be able to operate the general fund for one year without interruption. Other county funds keep between four and six months of reserves available at all times for the same reasons.
Not all of the reserve funds are cash in the bank. Most of the reserves are in the form of investments that earn the county money each year. For example, last year the county earned approximately $750,000 in investment earnings not including the CCITF fund. If the county starts using those reserve funds, that is another lost revenue source that will be hard to get back.
According to Janae Stanworth, Budget and Finance Director, “Pulling from reserves should be used as an absolute last resort option only and isn’t a long term solution.”
The proposed 2021 budget is due from the budget department on October 15, 2020. Budget work sessions are held multiple times between October 19th and November 20th with in-depth discussions taking place during this time. Departments heads will answer in-depth questions regarding their proposed budget and unfortunately may not receive all they have asked for. As always, any additional budget discussions between the board will be published with at least 24 hours notice as required by law.
The Rio Blanco County Board of County Commissioners always welcome ideas, input, and suggestions from employees and community members on how to best move forward. For meeting schedules and to sign up for notifications, please visit www.rbc.us. The Commissioners can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.