Op-Ed Authors: Commissioners Tracy Kraft-Tharp, Andy Kerr, Lesley Dahlkemper
For some, the county budget may seem like nothing more than a thick pile of indecipherable numbers, detailed charts and spreadsheets. For us, it captures the community’s funding priorities and how we best leverage taxpayer dollars to deliver county services. Like you, we must balance our budget every year while funding essential county services such as public safety, roads, bridges, and other county operations.
Your voice is a critical part of building a county budget. We’ve increased ways for you to share your best thinking with us with the help of community meetings, an online budget survey, community budget forums, telephone town halls, and our October budget hearing.
County Commissioners gather community feedback and work closely with other elected and appointed officials to develop a budget that prioritizes funding for critical services. The proposed 2023 general fund budget totals $794 million. For example, it identifies $155 million for public safety services provided by the Sheriff, District Attorney and Coroner as well as $83 million for maintenance and repair of county roads and bridges.
Our budget team will present the final budget on Tuesday, November 15 at 8:00 a.m. in the Board of County Commissioners Hearing Room at 100 Jefferson County Parkway in Golden. We encourage you to attend the hearing in person or virtually to provide feedback. To learn more, visit www.jeffco.us/meetings.
We were prepared to make up to $20 million in potential budget cuts in the General Fund. The shortfall represents the difference between the growth allowed under TABOR and the increased cost to provide those services. But, thanks to COVID recovery dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act – or ARPA funding – we temporarily avoided those cuts. APRA funding is only one-time money. We won’t have this option in 2024.
When Jefferson County was awarded $113 million in ARPA funds, the Jeffco ARPA Team began working with community members and elected officials to determine what is needed most to help the Jefferson County community and local economy recover from COVID. After collecting extensive input, commissioners approved eight priority areas for ARPA funds. We created a task force for each priority area, then paired each task force with county subject matter experts.
Based on this feedback, Jefferson County will invest ARPA dollars in these one-time investment to:
- Offset economic impacts of the pandemic, including $1.7 million for a food grant program addressing food insecurity and disruption to local food supply. Provides equitable access to locally produced food, while meeting nutritional and cultural needs. Increases community engagement and strengthens local partnerships.
- Address needs for public health.
- Behavioral Health Vouchers - expands the continuum of care for behavioral health services in Jefferson County through providing $1 million in funding for a voucher program, allowing eligible residents to access services through private providers as well as Jefferson Center for Mental Health.
- Work with partners to enhance broadband infrastructure - commissioned a study to determine broadband needs in the county. To increase the impact of ARPA funding at the county level, applications will be submitted for IIJA and state grants once priorities have been determined.
- Fund increased staffing in the county jail.
- Improve deputies’ retirement package to help with better recruitment and retention.
- Repair and replace critical infrastructure such as roads and culverts.
- Keep our community safe from wildfire threat, including increasing defensible space, improving forest health, hardening homes, and creating two new year-round slash collection sites.
- Develop a 15-year housing master plan for Jefferson County with funds from the DOLA Innovative Housing Opportunities Program grant to combine with county direct ARPA funding to develop a 15-year housing master plan for Jefferson County. The focus of the master plan is to determine housing needs in the county.
In addition, as we mentioned earlier, Jefferson County will leverage the one-time use of ARPA funds to cover a $20 million revenue shortfall in the General Fund. However, ARPA is only a temporary fix.
Visit our ARPA web page at www.jeffco.us/ARPA to find a new interactive dashboard that has more information about approved projects.
TABOR Refund Checks
The Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) requires governments in Colorado to refund revenue collected above the TABOR limit each year or seek voter approval to retain the revenue. For the second year in a row, property taxpayers in Jefferson County received TABOR refund checks in the mail. Taxpayers received these checks because the county garnered more revenue in 2021 than the TABOR revenue limits allowed.
One of the reasons Jefferson County is in its second year of refunding revenue is the unexpected impact of the COVID pandemic. In 2020, when the economy shut down, the county received much less revenue than normal and this caused the calculation of the TABOR revenue limit to automatically reduce by $14.5 million. Once that revenue limit is reset, the lower calculation sets the base for any allotted new growth.
The county must refund by law any revenue over this now lower threshold. Last year’s total refund was about $1.5 million. This year’s refund is quite a bit more – $17.3 million. Property taxpayers in the county received a check proportionate to the amount of property taxes paid in 2021. To learn more about TABOR and this year’s refund, visit www.jeffco.us/tabor.
We value your input as we prioritize funding decisions – thanks to everyone who has participated in our budget process and we look forward to hearing more from you on November 15!
Visit www.jeffco.us/663, contact us directly at [email protected] or individually at [email protected], [email protected] and [email protected]. The Jeffco Board of County Commissioners’ public hearings are held on most Tuesdays at 8 a.m. See our Meetings & Agendas page for details.