While preparing Eagle County’s 2021 budget, members of the county’s finance team braced for the worst.
But then something unexpected happened – the global COVID-19 pandemic didn’t hit as hard as they thought.
“Yes, we entered a recession during COVID, but it was the shortest recession in U.S. history,” said Jill Klosterman, Eagle County CFO. “And we had a huge sales tax year. Since the start of the year, we are up 26% compared to 2020. ”
As the end of a year when the budget forecast a significant drop in sales tax revenue nears, the county expects to collect around $ 25 million.
“Last year we had no idea if people were going to come here to ski or not,” said Klosterman. Ultimately, visitors came and locals increased spending on tourism.
“People didn’t go out of the county to buy their products. They’ve placed more orders, which they’ve become more comfortable with in 2021, ”Klosterman said. “We now know a lot more about how to live and function in a COVID-19 world than we knew around this time last year. “
This knowledge helped shape the county’s 2022 budget, Klosterman continued.
“We are cautiously optimistic. We are looking at what is going on in the world, but we do not see anything that would cause us to be super conservative in this budget, ”she said.
Faced with a budget that will not be as meager as expected, county commissioners are focusing on staff retention and strategic goals.
Like other large employers in the valley, the county is struggling to find workers. Budget 2022 will address this issue by including both merit-based and cost-of-living wage increases. Klosterman said the amount of money earmarked for salaries has yet to be finalized, but will likely be somewhere between 4 and 7 percent.
“We are not isolated from the effects of the Great Resignation and the lack of manpower,” she said. “We want to try to keep our staff happy.”
Beyond the salary allocation, the county views its list of strategic priorities as a roadmap for the budget. At the top of this list is labor housing.
In 2021, better-than-expected revenues prompted the county to approve $ 10 million for the Bold moves program. By the end of the year, approximately $ 4.5 million of that money will have been spent with the remaining $ 5.5 million allocated for 2022.
Klosterman noted that much of the program focused on immediate intervention. As a result, the dollars were allocated to increase the down payment assistance and fund more restricted units per deed. There were also medium-term projects such as homeowner financing for the construction of secondary suites.
But larger projects that would involve county participation in building new labor units are longer-term and more expensive solutions. Klosterman noted that $ 1.5 million had been set aside from the initial $ 10 million to help plan and launch this ambitious work.
“We have also entered into a listing agreement to sell Lake Creek Village. When that sale takes place, we’ll have a plan to spend that money to build new units and partner with developers to really make an impact on housing needs, ”Klosterman said. “We will use all the tools we have. “
The 2022 county budget also includes funding for other priorities, including early childhood education, economic diversification, transportation, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating forest fires.
There is $ 1.7 million allocated to access and quality early childhood education.
“The labor shortage has affected early childhood work as much, if not more than any other sector,” Klosterman noted.
A new county economic development program will receive $ 225,000 in funding over the next few years and the greenhouse gas reduction effort is slated for $ 1.6 million.
“The federal infrastructure bill also contains a lot of energy-related funding,” Klosterman said. “We don’t yet know how this will translate into our budget. “
She noted that the county will continue its Energy Smart program to provide grants to residents who replace older, inefficient systems and its partnerships with Walking Mountains Science Center and the Roaring Fork Valley Community Office for Resource Efficiency to meet residents’ energy needs. low income.
“We also plan to purchase more electric and hybrid vehicles for our fleeting fleet, including the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office,” Klosterman said. “We had limited ability to purchase new vehicles in 2021 due to supply chain issues. “
The past two years have made forest fire mitigation a top priority for county officials, she continued. “We are actively discussing the right amount of local dollars to invest in this very high priority,” she said. The draft budget provides for $ 1.2 million, but this figure is subject to change. “The infrastructure deal has money for that as well, possibly through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.”
At the end of the trail
To complement the strategic priorities, there is a project that has been going on for decades: the Eagle Valley Trail.
In 2021, the county issued $ 8.7 million in certificate of attendance work to complete the valley cycle path. Of that, $ 3.7 million has been spent in 2021. Klosterman noted that the coming year will include work on some of the last stretches and some of the more difficult unfinished stretches.
“It will include the Duck Pond to Dotsero section, EagleVail Phase II construction and planning from Wolcott to Edwards,” she said. “We believe that we may need to acquire more rights of way or land as we continue this work. “
In total, the county’s operating budget / general fund will total $ 49 million in 2022. The total county budget – which includes the general fund as well as debt service, public transportation, county airport, roads and bridges, public health and other funds – will total $ 160 million.
Eagle County’s 2022 public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, December 7. The Eagle County Council of Commissioners is expected to adopt the final budget on Tuesday, December 14.