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El Paso County Colorado District 49

Preliminary county budget for 2008

It is way too early to be writing about the 2008 budget, but given the recent attention it has received, an update is warranted. This could fall in the “better be careful what you ask for” category. Over the past two years, the commissioners have been adamant about being more involved in the budget process, which is what led to a May discussion where we heard that without cuts we will be 7.5 million short.When you are spending someone else’s money, as all governments do, and the expense column is larger than the income column, the focus has to be on reducing the expense side, and the reductions presented had something from everyone to cover the additional cost of operating in 2008. Additional funding mandates include increased fuel costs, higher food and medical costs for prisoners, the federal government requiring additional training for deputies, which not only costs money but requires additional staff to cover their duties during training. Add to that the counties share of increased health cost and a cold snowy winter that wreaked havoc on the roads, and suddenly 2008 is looking pretty bleak.Income wise 2006 ended with a whimper, and projected sales tax revenues fell $2.3 million short. The 2007 budget has been set fairly conservatively, but we are going to need a good summer tourist season to meet even those projections. With sales tax information available on the past seven months we are projecting very minimal additional revenue from sales tax in 2008, and despite how the governor may be attempting to get increased property tax by freezing mill levy rates (which will likely be settled in court), the county will continue to live by the rules of the TABOR amendment and not try any sleight of hand. Any bump in property tax will come primarily from new construction.We will not be receiving any new judges in ’08, so the district attorney will not be required to add attorneys. However, sheriff’s deputies have been injured in jail skirmishes in understaffed wards while waiting for fellow officers to arrive. Patrol deputies can wait up to 20 minutes for backup when dispatched to violent situations. The sheriff is requesting six deputies for the jail and six for patrol. Actual dispatch may be different but for perspective sake, if you want one more deputy on duty 24/7, 365 days a year, it takes six people by the time you dispatch three shifts plus weekends, vacations and annual training.We will have a balanced budget, not only does state law require it, but it would be irresponsible to do otherwise. What we don’t want is to be “penny wise and pound foolish”. Every department and office will give up something, some more than others. What we don’t want is the dollar we cut today to cost us $10 tomorrow when we find ourselves replacing what could have been repaired or have the law of unintended consequences kick in when eliminating a PR bond commissioner in justice services results in longer stays for inmates and higher costs for the sheriff.

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