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Carbon officials prepare to complete 2007 budget cycle

Sun Advocate reporter

As Carbon lawmakers prepare to hammer out the details of next year's budget, county officials expect modest increases in revenue sources.

While rising costs will consume much of the new funds, elected officials expect to maintain a surplus which has been accruing in recent years.

"We have been able to balance our general fund and municipal services fund of $17 million for 2005 and maintain an adequate surplus to cover emergencies or budget shortfalls," reported Commissioner Bill Krompel in a memo to county supervisors and elected officials.

Between 2004 and 2005, Krompel noted that the county saw some growth in three general areas.

Sales tax revenues increased 19 percent from $1.5 million in 2004 to $1.8 million in 2005.

The total market value for property in Carbon County grew from $2 billion in 2005 to more than $2.3 billion in 2006.

Property tax is only assessed on a portion of the total market value. The taxable value of property in the county saw a 16 percent increase in property tax revenues - representing about $274 million in taxable property growth - from $1.7 million to almost $2 million.

Finally, money from mineral leases is expected to increase this year.

Based on three quarters of mineral lease revenues, Krompel said he expects revenues to total more than $10 million this year, up 43 percent from $7 million last year.

State accounting laws mandate that at least 75 percent of any surplus revenues in any district accounts spent or earmarked.

In future years, the district may have more flexibility in spending those funds, as the county has begun the process of expanding the district.

County officials plan to pass a resolution, which would add emergency dispatch, fire protection, garbage collection and animal control as allowed areas for the district to fund.

Currently, the district only funds recreation and transportation. By taking the route of expanding the district's reach, the county will protect the payments in lieu of taxes it receives from the federal government.

At the end of 2005, the county had its largest surplus in five years.

The general fund had a surplus of more than $1 million last year and the municipal services fund showed more than $3.2 million surplus - money that it keeps for emergencies or budget shortfalls.

In the last 20 years, there have been only two times that the county has reported a larger surplus.

In 1999, the county has a $1.7 million surplus in its general fund and, in 2000, $1.8 million. As recently as 2002, the county had a much smaller general fund surplus, when Carbon governement reported slightly more than $31,000.

Similarly, the municipal services fund has not always had as large of a surplus. In 2003, the surplus was $603,000. But in the last two years, the surplus has more than quadrupled.

The figures show a better picture than 20 years ago, when the of more than $400,000. Only twice in the last 15 years, has the county reported a surplus less than $100,000.

In addition to the surpluses in the general and the municipal services funds, the county also has more then $173,000 in its class B roads fund and $253,000 reserved from restaurant tax revenues.

However, growth in the county budgets has not come without additional costs.

Governments everywhere face the same costs increases that have impacted businesses.

Fuel costs rose dramatically in 2006 before beginning to fall in the past month.

Materials used in road construction and other infrastructure have gone up in price as well, with some going up four or five times.

The largest budgets in 2005 included:

•The county jail, consuming more than $1.6 million.

•The sheriff's department at $1.6 million.

•The county road department at $1.2 million .

•The county's class B roads fund, at $1.1 million.

All other budgets stayed significantly lower than $1 million, with the ambulance garage coming the closest with a $546,000 budget.

In 2005, the total general fund budget for the county registered at more than $9.8 million. The municipal services fund budget was more than $7.1 million.

In preparing for next year's budget, county commissioners urged department supervisors to prioritize their funding requests.

At a county government meeting two weeks ago, Commissioner Michael Milovich indicated that the total of the requests is often double the amount of the total budget.

"I would like to recommend [prioritizing] funding requests, especially in equipment and capital improvement projects," stated Krompel.

The commission has scheduled the preliminary approval of the county's budget for mid November. The final budget will need to be approved before the end of the year.

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