Jefferson County Commissioner Libby Szabo on Nov. 12 pointed out that Jefferson County is not the first jurisdiction to face budget cuts.
“And it won’t be the last,” she said. “But I think we’re up to the task. We heard the voters loud and clear. They want us to go back and sharpen our pencils and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”
The county lacks about $16.1 million for a balanced 2020 budget and to maintain an appropriate reserve fund. To achieve that amount, the county proposed a seven percent budget reduction in 2020 for all county offices, departments and divisions whose budget is impacted by the general fund. There are 15 departments funded by the general fund and it is the county’s principle operating fund.
As a possible solution to the financial challenges — one that would avoid budget cuts — on July 23, the Jefferson County commissioners unanimously approved putting the Jeffco 1A question on the November 2019 ballot. Jeffco 1A asked to allow the county government to keep excess tax revenue from TABOR.
However, on Nov. 5, Jefferson County voters decided not to pass ballot measure Jeffco 1A.
The Jefferson County Board of Jefferson County Commissioners approved the 2020 budget on Nov. 12, with the forecasted $16.1 million in cuts to all departments affected by the county’s general fund.
The 2020 budget totals about $605.3 million, and the general fund represents $217.4 million of that, which reflects the $16.1 million in cuts.
According to the budget presentation, these cuts are $5.4 million in public safety, which includes the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and the First Judicial District’s District Attorney’s Office; $10.1 million from stewardship, which includes elections and technologies; and $626,000 from health and wellbeing programming such as Jefferson County Public Health’s home visitation programs and CSU Extension services.
Thirteen people addressed the county commissioners about the budget on Nov. 12. Their comments included issues concerning veterans, affordable housing, people with mental illnesses, addressing bond for jail inmates and the Jefferson Parkway.
The Jefferson Parkway is a proposed toll road intended to close the gap between state highways 93 and 128. The Jefferson Parkway will be owned as a public entity by the Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority (JPPHA), but privately financed through a private partner also responsible for designing, building, operating and maintaining the parkway, according to Bill Ray, executive director of the JPPHA.
Jefferson County is one of three government members in contractual agreement that is funding the JPPHA. The funds have been used for the JPPHA’s initial startup costs, right of way purchases, various impact studies and legal fees over environmental concerns. The private partner will be reimbursing the governmental agencies’ advances, Ray said in a previous interview.
However, the Jefferson Parkway is on hold currently. Additional testing is being done to soil samples taken from the proposed right of way near Rocky Flats, a former nuclear weapons plant.
Concerning funding the JPPHA, in Jefferson County, rather than providing the money up front, the county reviews the documentation and invoices that the JPPHA provides, prior to paying its portion.
In July this year, a $1 million placeholder was budgeted for the JPPHA in 2020. On Nov. 12, county commissioners decided to reduce that amount by $600,000 to go back into the general fund balance, leaving $400,000 as the placeholder amount for the JPPHA.
“Even though you have a set amount budgeted” for the Jefferson Parkway, Deputy County Manager Kate Newman told the county commissioners on Nov. 12, “you still have to approve each allocation, and that would happen in 2020.”
The Jefferson County commissioners had to make “very difficult decisions” on important issues that are taken seriously, Jefferson County Commissioner Leslie Dahlkemper said.
But “one of the areas that’s so strong, and is important for us to point to, is that we’re all in this together and we’re thinking about this together,” Dahlkemper said. “When we think about our quality of life in Jeffco, that’s something we want to preserve. And it’s important that we work together to do that.”
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