As Jefferson County begins its 2021 budgeting process, administrative staff is entering the process by warning county departments to cut a total of about $6.3 million from budgets to help maintain …
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The county received about $71.9 million in CARES Act funding according to Jeffco Manager Don Davis, with portions of that total being passed through to area cities.
Those federal dollars, meant to pay for expenses related to COVID-19, would help the county pay for things like the salaries of extra jail employees needed to work the seventh floor of the jail, where COVID-19-positive inmates are currently sequestered
Davis said staff did not include those numbers in preliminary budget discussions because they want the county to budget for a worst-case scenario and have those dollars provide “a little bit of cushion” particularly since the county will likely have to start funding COVID-19 related expenses such as extra jail floor next year as CARES Act dollars must be spent in 2020 and there is not currently expected to be a second CARES Act.
As Jefferson County begins its 2021 budgeting process, administrative staff is entering the process by warning county departments to cut a total of about $6.3 million from budgets to help maintain the county’s financial footing as the COVID-19 crisis continues.
During a June 29 budget strategy discussion, Jeffco budget manager Dan Conway estimated that county expenditures would be about $237.6 million in 2021, if the county maintained current expenditures, but did not provide any salary raises.
That would leave the county with a general fund balance of about $21.7 million at the end of 2021, less than the $28 million balance recommended by the Governor’s Finance Officers Association to cover two months of operating expenses as that organization recommends.
However, Conway said the county has already finalized around $3.3 million in savings from 2020, including $2.2 million that will be saved because 2021 is an off-year for elections and another $800,000 in savings that will come from reducing operations at the fairgrounds.
That would leave the county needing $3 million in cuts in order to reach that $28 million year-end balance figure.
However, Conway said approving a budget that does not include any raises for county employees would create other challenges for the county.
“Whatever direction the board decides to go in developing the budget the questions need to be asked about what message does this send to the staff?” said Conway. “Does it incentivize performance for longevity? Are our wages continuing to keep pace?”
But at the same time, he said it is important for the commissioners to keep in mind that base salary increases also compound over time and county revenues must be able to keep pace with those increases.
Conway also discussed the need to balance maintaining competitive employee compensation with that of ensuring the county has sufficient budget reserves to weather the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
County Manager Don Davis said one option would be for the county to budget for a one-time payment of $500 0r $1,000 to all employees, which the county would not actually pay out until later in 2021. Doing so would provide the county with the flexibility to not go through with those payments if additional costs related to the pandemic put additional strain on the county budget.
All three commissioners voiced some support for that approach, although Commissioner Casey Tighe expressed some concern about how providing those raises might be viewed by the greater community.
“There are a lot of folks who are not seeing an increase in their wages and they’ve got to make their property tax payments,” said Tighe. “So that’s why I think we need to really watch what we’re doing and who we’re impacting so I think buying a little time and letting our employees know we appreciate the work they’re doing but we don’t know if we can come forward (with a payment) makes sense.”
Conway said county staff is drafting a budget proposal that includes a $1,000 one-time payment for employees (costing the county about $1.3 million) but $6.3 million in department cuts, equalling a projected fund balance of $29.8 million. County staff will present the commissioners with the preliminary budget later this summer. The budget is to be finalized in October.
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