County forecast calls for more budget cuts in 2013

— Editor's note: the article below is based on a county press release

San Juan County Interim Administrator Bob Jean told the county council June 26 that the county remains at a point where its revenues and its expenditures to not match to sustain its current level of services.

Even with the proposed Public Safety Sales Tax, cuts in non-public Safety services will be needed, Jean said.

“Because property tax growth is limited to 1 percent per year and sales tax revenues have been declining since 2008 due to the recession, the county budget has lost real ground to inflation, and it is ground that cannot be made up without some additional revenue,” he said.

Jean said that if the county simply continued services at current levels, next year’s expenses would exceed revenue by nearly $800,000. He added that financial projections show the average shortfall would equal roughly $1.2 million per year from 2013 through 2015.

In response to budget shortfalls, the council has, in part, placed a Public Safety Sales Tax proposal on the Aug. 7 primary ballot. Jean said passage of the proposed sales tax would enable the county to avoid cuts in personnel in the sheriff’s office, court services and prosecutor’s office, but it would only make up about half the forecasted annual shortfall.

The administrator’s budget report projects that if the proposed sales tax is approved, the county’s work force will need to be reduced by seven positions. If the proposition fails, 14 positions will have to be eliminated – that amounts to more than 10 percent of the work force funded by the county’s general fund.

“It’s going to be tough,” Jean said. “Over the past four years, the county has gone through five rounds of budget cutting and 32 full time positions have been already been eliminated.”

He praised county employees for their willingness in recent years to take furloughs, re-open contracts, and reduce insurance benefits; and the voters for approving a property tax levy lid-lift in 2009, much of which was earmarked for specific county programs such as parks, senior services and extension services.

“The public safety sales tax won’t get us all of the way there, but it is an important next step toward long-term stability,” Jean said.

His budget plan calls for taking enough cuts in the 2013 budget to make it possible to continue without further reductions for the next three years.

“That would give the council enough time to work with the community to decide what level of service the community wants and how it wants to pay for it,” he added.

In 2015, the 2009 levy lid-lift would need to be renewed or county revenue would drop by another $1 million per year.

While Jean’s report identified areas where positions might be eliminated, he said that his report was intended to be just the start of the discussion.  The council has scheduled a follow-up discussion for July 10 and will invite comment on the report and budget priorities from both the public and elected officials. Jean will also provide more information about program budgets and how county services would be different with and without the passage of the Public Safety Sales Tax.

Jean summed up his report by saying, “San Juan County is not alone. Local governments nationwide have been struggling to find the ‘new normal’ – the point where revenues and service expenditures match. With the county’s budget cuts since 2008, the voter approved levy lid lift in 2010, and other budget and service cuts in non-public safety areas for 2013-2015, the public safety sales tax is an important next step toward achieving that goal.”


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