It’s fall budget time again

Gilpin County

By Roger Baker

It’s a gloomy time of year in Gilpin County – the days are turning cooler, the nights coming earlier – and this is particularly true for those department directors and elected officials charged with putting together their budgets for the hearings that begin Monday.

For again this year the revenue projections for the County are pretty grim. Gaming tax – that share of the state tax that is collected from the casinos and returned to the County – shows no signs of rapid growth, and that tax is by far the largest part of the County’s income stream.

Right now we are budgeting for about $9.3 million in gaming taxes; that’s up a smidge from the last couple of years, but far below, for example, where we were in 2007.

That year, for example, we received over $10.3 million in gaming tax, and the trend was continuing upward. During the 2000s, for example, the taxes returned to Gilpin County had increased by an average of 6.5% annually; if that trend had continued since then, this year we’d be expecting over $15 million in taxes, and the mood at the budget hearings would have been considerably cheerier.

Instead, as everyone knows, the economy cratered, the growth in the gaming industry virtually stopped, and this important component of County revenue tanked; by 2009 we were collecting annually $2 million less than we had two year’s previously, and our revenues have never really recovered.

Meanwhile, costs have continued to rise: health care, energy, insurance all costs significantly more than they did in 2007. We’ve been creative; even though we have the same number of employees we had in 2006, we’ve added or expanded a number of programs. Our trash and slash collection program, for example, is much more developed than it was a half-dozen years ago.

passage of Amendment 50 in 2008 meant big changes – and additional expenses – for our law enforcement operations as well. With 24-hour gaming, we need more and longer patrols, and the population of our jail has increased significantly since the new hours went into effect July 2, 2009.

We’ve also looked more to grants as sources of funding for new but necessary programs; the wildfire mitigation program we’ve written about in the past (and which will really be getting into gear in the next month or two) is funded primarily by a grant from the Colorado Department of Parks & Wildlife. But grants usually have some matching component, and also usually require some additional administrative time by County staff, who are already stretched pretty thin.

Then factor in that all of our buildings are getting older – the Justice Center is now 15 years old, the Community Center 10 years old – and maintenance needs are starting to grow, too. As you know, replacing a roof is a major expense for any homeowner, so imagine how much it will cost for one of these buildings!

Then there are additional mandates from the state and federal governments that usually cause extra expense, with little or no additional income to offset it. The election that begins shortly (in fact, many of you may have already received your mail ballots already) is being run in a new way this year, and while there may be cost savings in the long run, there’s always new equipment required.

Finally, these same department directors and elected officials still want to provide better service to the citizens of Gilpin County, so they’re always coming up with better programs that they could implement if they had just another employee here, or a different piece of equipment there.

All that makes for some very, very difficult choices which the County Commissioners – who approve the 2014 budget – will face. Wish them luck.

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