County wrestles with 2012 budget blues

And you thought your healthcare costs were steep.

San Juan County is bracing for a 22 percent increase in healthcare costs beginning next year, and, as a result, its preliminary 2012 budget calls for the elimination of three-and-a-half full-time jobs to offset that anticipated spike in general fund expenses.

Administrator Pete Rose noted the budget unveiled last week is the fourth consecutive in which the county workforce will be reduced.

It calls for $13.7 million in general fund revenue and expenses, which is roughly equivalent to last year’s general fund and about $150,000 less in projected revenue than in 2010.

Deputy Administrator David Kelley said that the pending $235,000 cut in next year’s payroll costs is not, at this point, a done deal.

The county’s insurance provider, Group Health, would be willing to reduce the county’s annual premium by a substantial amount in exchange for raising the amount employees pay in deductibles, he said.

“Our claims have been running about 25 percent higher than our premium,” Kelley said.

Kelley noted, however, that any increase in deductibles would require approval of the county’s unionized workers. He said negotiations are under way with union representatives regarding possible concessions in current collective bargaining agreement. The agreement calls for a 3 percent pay increase    in 2012 for members of Local 1849, and a 2 percent raise for members of the Sheriff’s Guild.

Following the elimination of 6.5 jobs in late July, the county workforce now totals 225 employees. Nearly 23 positions have been cut from those departments that draw financial support from the general fund over the past four years. Another ten have been eliminated in road division of the Department of Public Works.

“We have spent three years trying to hold the core of the county government together,” Rose said. “We are not able to do that in this budget. Previous reductions have harmed the effectiveness of the county organization. The reductions proposed in this budget harm the organization and our capacity to deliver its services in the affected departments.”

Departments targeted for staff cuts are the Sheriff’s Office, Community Development and Planning, Dispatch, Juvenile Court and the prosecuting attorney’s office. Faced with a potential $100,000 budget reduction, Sheriff Rob Nou said the likelihood of the department losing a deputy is “very real.”

In addition to a $13.7 million general fund, the preliminary 2012 budget calls for $3.1 million in state and federal grants, a $10.4 million Road Fund, a $4.4 million Equipment Rental & Revolving Fund and nearly $3 million in bond payments. The mental health tax fund, which is generated by a .01 percent tax on retail sales and went into effect in 2010, is expected to total slightly more than $1.5 million in 2012.

The 2012 preliminary budget book is available online at:




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