The county is about to begin its annual budget process. In a recent interview with KVNF, Commissioner Don Suppes sidestepped a question about county reserve funds telling listeners that the county wants 25 percent of its annual budget carried over to the new year in case of emergencies.
The problem with his answer is that it was only half true. Yes, county administrator Robbie LeValley confirmed that the county has made it a policy to hold 25 percent of the county's annual budget in reserve accounts to cover three months of operating expenses in times of emergency, however, the county holds a lot more than 25 percent ... almost twice as much, in fact. (Point of reference: Mesa County holds 22.17 percent in reserve or $34 million of a budget of $166 million.)
In a presentation last month, contract CPA and auditor Pete Blair told commissioners that the county ended 2017 with more than $17 million (or 48 percent of the total county budget) in various fund accounts. He noted that the county "couldn't use most of these funds on just anything" since they were tagged for specific spending. He failed, however, to point out that almost half of the money slated for spending is often left untouched year-after-year, maintaining almost 50 percent in reserves. Blair did mention that $4 million of these reserve funds were not allocated to a specific account, which means commissioners can spend the money in any way they wish.
In other words, our commissioners currently have a $4 million slush fund and the county government, as a whole, isn't the poor relative it often pretends to be, but rather, has a tidy sum stuffed under the mattress.
Commissioner Suppes isn't the only one fanning the flames of financial woe when it comes to the county's coffers. County administrator LeValley prides herself in her ability "to say no" when asked for funding by department heads and county residents on the reasoning that the county is broke. Several other county officials have cried wolf with predictions of impending disaster caused by federal mandates and industry downturns that have simply not materialized.
Folks, the math is pretty simple. The county budget is $33 million; a 25 percent reserve is $8.25 million; the county carried over $17-plus million in 2017. This leaves a lot of money languishing in very low-to-no interest-bearing accounts whose values erode each year due to inflation.
And news flash: This practice has been going on for years.
Back to the $4 million slush fund. I'm just wondering what this money could buy: Adequate staffing and competitive pay for county service departments (the county doesn't even have a receptionist); larger police force; animal control and shelter; better weed control; paved roads; recreation amenities ... fill in the blank yourself.
Financial responsibility is not a fat wallet when the kids are starving. In fact, it should be a crime.
One thing is for sure. It's a crying shame.
P.S. Another option: Give the money back to the taxpayers. Many of us could use it.