By Rick Gustafson
"Turned the corner, but not out of the woods" describes the sentiment expressed by the Elbert County Board of County Commissioners with regard to next year's budget. The board presented its proposed 2015 budget at a hearing during its regularly scheduled meeting on Nov. 12, and there was both good and bad news.
One of the highlights of the budget for the commissioners was the creation of a Bond Service Fund of $500,000 required for a $7.2 million loan underwritten by Wells Fargo Bank. Over the years, the county struggled with the reserve and liquidity requirements stipulated by the loan, but 2015 will be the first full year the county has budgeted to meet those requirements.
“The creation of the fund paves the way for future administrations,” said Larry Ross, District 3 commissioner.
According to the presentation made by Ed Ehmann, Elbert County manager, compliance with Wells Fargo's loan requirements makes the county eligible to refinance the loan, possibly at a lower interest rate than the 5.25 percent the county is currently paying.
“It's not too early to start the dialogue to refinance the balance of this note,” said Robert Rowland, commissioner for District 1.
Not all residents in the county approve of the county's budgeting process. In an email sent to the Elbert County News on Nov. 2, Elbert County resident Susan Shick, who has raised concerns about budgeting and the costs of annual audits in the past, expressed her dissatisfaction with the process.
“My concern is that the county government officials have refused to publish this budget on the county website, requiring all interested parties to travel to Kiowa to retrieve it from the county's finance office.”
Shick also expressed her concerns regarding the “downward trend in the county's General Fund balance, now estimated to reach a new low of $10,186 by the end of 2015.”
County Manager, Ed Ehmann, responded to Shick's concerns by saying that the draft budget is a working document, and the version the commissioners and staff were working on is constantly being revised. He also expressed concern about the confusion created by repeatedly posting a document that is constantly undergoing revisions.
“We'll post the final version on the webpage,” Ehmann said.
Ehmann's office made the revised budget presented at the BOCC meeting on Nov. 12 available to the Elbert County News immediately following the request.
Revenues in the county have remained flat over the past three years, and a shortage of funds continue to plague the county's efforts to implement programs such as the County Transportation Master Plan as well as forced delays to the replacement of aging assets, a significant contributor to the decline in the general fund balance through depreciation.
Rowland commented that the county's expenditures will be tied to revenues.
“If we don't receive the revenues, we won't spend the money,” Rowland said.
In July, the commissioners approved a four-year $360,000 contract for the County Assessor's Office to enter into a professional services agreement with Thimgan & Associates an ad-valorem valuation-consulting firm located in La Junta, Colorado. The firm's fee is offset by the retirement of an employee in the Assessor's Office.
The agreement enlists the firm to assist the Assessor's Office with appraisals and inspections of nearly 10,000 properties throughout Elbert County over the next four years. The commissioners did not speculate on how much revenue the project might generate, but agreed that it is important to ensure that properties throughout the county were valued fairly.
The commissioners are expected to approve a final version of the 2015 budget at its regularly scheduled BOCC meeting on Dec. 10.