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El Paso County Colorado District 49

Budget cuts a reality for El Paso County

Of 64 counties, El Paso County is the most populous in Colorado, with the lowest local tax cost per person. An example is Jefferson County, which is closest to us in population. The county had a property tax per person in 2007 of $310, compared to El Paso County’s property tax per person of $66. We are a frugal county, run with very little fat compared to many other government entities.El Paso County is required to run a balanced budget. Federal government is not required to do so and wastes more money than I believe we will ever be able to find. The waste at the federal level is, in my opinion, criminal. There is also a tremendous amount of waste at the state level, where programs are funded with our tax dollars that have no place whatsoever in government. It is what so many others and I refer to as “nanny-state government.”This type of government bloating is what is taking vital resources away from those things government was originally designed to provide by our founders – public safety, infrastructure, general welfare and defense. Our state and federal governments are not happy to just keep their wasteful programs within their budgets but are all too thrilled to pass them along to the county level (the county is an arm of the state) and impose many of their mandates on us with little or no revenue to back them up.El Paso County does not have a mile long list of “nanny-state government.” With our county’s main responsibilities being public safety and roads (infrastructure), we must focus our resources on being as highly efficient as possible even under the burden of these mandates, which always seem to find their way here, to the end of the road, at the county level. This is not to say there are not some programs here that I would love to do away with, but they are few and far between, and the state or federal government mostly mandates them.We also have many programs that a lot of folks don’t always think about like mandatory food stamp programs, child protection, coroner services, assessor services, prosecution through our court system and feeding the inmates at our jail. Did you know that under the rights of an inmate, our sheriff must strictly regulate things such as jail air temperature, design, square footage, calorie intake and a breakdown of the types of foods those calories come from, number of hours of sleeping without disturbances and how inmates are segregated within the jail population? With the overcrowding within our jail, our sheriff cannot appropriately segregate violent offenders from non-violent offenders. This is just one more factor, which puts him and this county at risk for litigation under failure- to- protect pretenses. Any person arrested in El Paso County goes to our county jail because it is the only one for the entire county. There is no city jail or other municipality with any other facility.As of the first quarter of 2008, our El Paso County budget is showing $1 million less in revenues than what was originally budgeted. Some refer to this as a shortfall, which it is, even though the 2008 budget is 3.13 percent larger than the 2007 budget, representing just over $3 million. However, given the reductions we are being forced to make, the 2008 budget will now be 1.1 percent less than 2007.Projections show us that this $1 million disparity in the first quarter will grow to approximately $3.5 million by year’s end. Because we cannot run a deficit, we must find these dollars in real cuts right now, before it is too late and we have no way to make it to the end of the year with the budget intact. Some of the reasons this disparity exists are lower than expected current and projected sales tax revenues ($902,386), recording fees ($1,432,760) and interest earnings ($1,210,000).In addition to the revenue shortfall, our self-insurance fund is projecting a $4,092,399 deficit in medical and dental claims over budget, showing $1,588,178 as of March 31. In addition, our budget for fleet fuel (snow plows, road graders, etc.) is $300,000 short and our sheriff’s fuel is $100,000 short. If gas prices continue to rise, these numbers will grow.At this time, the financial situation in El Paso County is such that if we do not make drastic cuts and decisions right now, we will not be able to make it to the end of the year with enough revenue to cover our mandated/contracted expenses. Reserves, in large part, have already been depleted and our options have been nearly eliminated. Entire programs will be cut. The public is telling us that they do not want programs cut, such as park services, CSU extension, justice services, veteran’s services and sheriff personnel.We don’t think these cuts are good ideas for our communities either, but our backs are against the wall with very few options available. These are not sound bites. This is not a scare tactic. It is not a joke and it is not an attempt to increase the size of government somewhere down the road. It is simply the reality of the situation in our county and you need to be aware of it.While I did not make any of these decisions to get us here, I now take full responsibility for them and for the actions, which will be required to establish stability in the budget. We will work to cut and find our way to the end of a balanced year and strive to preserve those non-mandated functions that make El Paso County such a special place to live.

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