Jefferson County continues to seek innovative ways to save money

County to focus on safety, stewardship, health and wellbeing in plan but cuts may be on the way

Posted 5/29/19

Despite struggling to keep up with an ever-increasing demand for services because of population growth, Jefferson County has been able to avoid budget cuts for the past few years, said Libby Szabo, …

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Jefferson County continues to seek innovative ways to save money

County to focus on safety, stewardship, health and wellbeing in plan but cuts may be on the way

Posted

Despite struggling to keep up with an ever-increasing demand for services because of population growth, Jefferson County has been able to avoid budget cuts for the past few years, said Libby Szabo, chair of the Board of County Commissioners.

“But that is no longer an option,” Szabo said. “The bottom line is that we have to trim our budgets for 2020.”

The county recently proposed a seven percent budget reduction in 2020 for all county offices, departments and divisions whose budget is impacted by the general fund. The General Fund is the county’s principle operating fund that is financed primarily by property taxes.

However, Jefferson County Commissioner Casey Tighe points out that the Colorado Tax Payer Bill of Rights (TABOR) puts an additional strain on the county’s financial struggles.

“Even though property values may increase, the amount of property tax revenue the county is allowed to collect is limited by the state constitution,” Tighe said. “This limit on the growth of revenue has resulted in the county spending into reserves, which is no longer sustainable.”

The county’s 2019 budget documents state that two principles are to be used to develop the budget for the general fund — one is to have “two months of operating expenses be maintained as a reserve in the general fund” and the second “requires that all ongoing operating expenses be covered by revenue and not fund balance.”

At the same time, the county is working on developing its strategic plan, called Jeffco 2050 Strategy. This will put focus on three main efforts — safety, health and well-being, and stewardship.

This strategic plan, once its closer to finalization, will help the county’s various departments with prioritizing their services as they make cuts, said Ashley Sever, the public affairs manager for Jefferson County Public Health.

“Jefferson County is one of the healthiest counties in Colorado, and that’s partly due to our commitment to strong public health services,” said Dr. Mark B. Johnson, executive director of Jefferson County Public Health. “While budget cuts are always challenging, we will work with Jefferson County and the local public health system to minimize the impact and identify ways to continue to keep our community healthy and safe.”

Although most county offices are still in the preliminary stages of determining how the proposed budget cut may affect them, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office has already started thinking about how it would affect its operations.

Per a press release sent out on April 23, the sheriff’s office notes that in order to achieve a seven percent reduction, it would have to cut its budget by $6.7 million.

This would best be achieved by eliminating employees, but Sheriff Jeff Shrader is “very against making employee cuts,” said the sheriff’s office’s public information officer Mike Taplin. Therefore, hiring for a position that opens — such as after a person retires — would not happen and that position would remain vacant.

Currently, the Jeffco jail can house 1,400 inmates. But should jail positions become vacant, in order to keep the current guard-to-inmate ratio balanced for safety reasons, the jail capacity may have to be cut by 400-600 beds.

The sheriff’s office currently has a contract with the U.S. Marshal to house some of its prisoners, and this provides an additional $1.8 million of revenue to the sheriff’s office, according to the April 23 press release. If the jail’s capacity has to be cut back, the sheriff would rather end the contract with the U.S. Marshal, resulting in a revenue loss, than not have the beds available when needed by the county’s local, municipal police agencies, Taplin said.

The county will continue to look for greater efficiencies on how business is done, said Jeffco Commissioner Lesley Dahlkemper.

Some of these efforts have already proven to be successful, Dahlkemper added. For example, she said, the county’s Road & Bridge Division — which takes care of road, sidewalk and signage maintenance, replacement and repair; street sweeping; snow plowing; and other services vital to transportation — saves the county about $350,000 each year by recycling 100 percent of its used asphalt. Likewise, the “facilities team has increased energy efficiency, resulting in a savings of nearly $480,000 annually,” she added.

“We take our job as stewards of taxpayer dollars very seriously,” Dahlkemper said of the county commissioners. And even when faced with a need to make budget cuts, “we’re always searching for innovative ways to save taxpayer dollars.”

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