EVANSTON ó Itís budget season, as the fiscal year ends for counties, cities and businesses, and Uinta County is no exception. The county is taking a big hit, however, as it plans to cut 17 percent from departmental budgets for the 2013-2014 fiscal year.
Cuts to funding for the county have been looming for a number of years now, as more federal programs are defunded, and severance taxes have declined from the energy sector of the state economy. Property taxes have fallen due to major reductions in mineral tax values, and health insurance expenses for county employees continue to rise, as well. Less federal funds to states means less money to counties.
The Payment In Lieu of Taxes program, or PILT, which funneled millions of dollars into state coffers, has been eliminated, but was given a one-year extension by a rider on a major transportation bill earlier this year. The last payment from that program is due to Uinta County in June 2014 and, unless another extension is passed by the U.S. Congress, or the program is reinstated, millions of dollars going annually into the countyís general fund will disappear.
The mineral tax values on property, generated through property taxes, decreased $1.4 million, while severance taxes from energy exploration and development have plummeted. Healthcare premiums for the county health insurance program have increased by about 5 percent in the last year, and are expected to continue to rise.
In a public hearing July 15, the Uinta County fiscal year 2014 budget was presented. Total general fund expenditures in the 2014 budget total $15,210,648; the budget for 2013 was $15,738,786. The disparity in those numbers is expected to continue to grow in coming years, while costs to operate the county continue to rise.
The budget priorities listed for this fiscal year included providing all funding for services required by state and local statutes; downsizing of staff to accommodate loss of revenue; changing the county health insurance plan to make it self-funded; and to provide funding for a veterans service officer.
What all these budgetary problems translate to for local citizens is higher costs for various fees and services, such as recently-implemented statewide 10 cents per gallon gasoline tax hike.
The Uinta County Library system, as reported recently in the Herald, had its new materials acquisition budget completely eliminated, and administrators are now turning to the public for donations in order to bring new titles to the facilities. The move was made to avoid a reduction in additional services or additional staff layoffs.
Road and bridge repair will also be affected by the reductions. The budget for Road and Bridge West for 2013 was $1,726,093, while the budget for 2014 has fallen to $1,044,765. Road and Bridge East saw a slight increase from $1,546,514 to $1,646,821, but there are far too many roads in poor condition at this time, and the increase will not be enough to repair many of these, according to county officials.
There are no funds available for new road construction, either, and with rising costs for materials, the increase will barely allow for maintenance of existing roads.
Budget planners also cut $20,000 from the Uinta County Department of Human Services, which was advised to seek additional funding from other sources. Jim Hissong, Joint Powers Board director, stated during the July 15 meeting the budget his department had completed for the 2014 fiscal year would have to be reexamined and adjusted due to the cuts.
The Uinta County Rural Fire District showed a loss of operating funds, as well. The actual revenue for the fire department budget in 2013 was $1,193,101 while the estimated revenue for the 2014 fiscal year was $1,068,578. Total expenses for the 2013 fiscal year totaled $2,677,061 while the estimated expenses for 2014 are $2,671,888.
One of the major causes of the budget problems stems from the district valuation, which dropped by about $100 million. The Joint Powers Board will have to operate on a bare-bones budget during the coming fiscal year and, unless valuation across the county increases for some unforeseen reason, future funds for the county are likely to continue to fall.
Copies of the official Uinta County Fiscal Year 2014 budget are available from the Uinta County Clerk at 225 Ninth Street in Evanston.