Jefferson County has a reputation as a wonderful place to live, visit, and conduct business. However, the top-notch services the county provides to residents and local businesses come at a cost. Taxpayer dollars allow the county to deliver vital services, but continued growth and demand for services has created a financial challenge that is affecting 2020 budgets.
With Colorado Tax Payer Bill of Rights (TABOR) limited revenue, Jeffco budget data indicates that the county will need to trim its budget by $16.1 million dollars in the next year to balance our budget and maintain an appropriate reserve fund. To achieve this, the county is requiring seven percent budget reductions for 2020 across all offices, departments and divisions whose budget is impacted by the General Fund. This is the start of the budget process, and by requiring these cuts initially, we can provide the Board of County Commissioners (BCC) with the detailed information it needs to finalize and adopt the 2020 budget.
“If we break our budget down into our three lines of effort, it looks like this: safety -- which includes the Sheriff, District Attorney, Coroner, and Transportation and Engineering -- is approximately 67 percent of the budget; health and well-being -- which includes Public Health, Human Services, and Parks -- makes up eight percent; and stewardship -- which includes the Assessor, Clerk and Recorder, and Treasurer -- is 25 percent,” said BCC Chair Libby Szabo. “Tough decisions are ahead of us and we will rely on the elected officials and directors as the experts in their areas to determine how best to make these reductions, and we will work together with them and our community to prioritize what approaches are in the best interest of Jeffco.”
As Jeffco’s population grows, so does the demand on the county’s services and programs. The county has seen an increase in traffic, development, housing and homelessness – and the ever-increasing population is at the forefront of our financial discussions. We continue to look for savings and greater efficiencies throughout the county and have been successful in that process.
However, TABOR limits the amount of tax revenue that Jeffco can keep. While demand for services grows, the tax revenue that would pay for the resulting services is limited. The loss of this surplus funding has a direct impact on the level and quality of services the county can provide to its residents.
Many cities and most of our peer counties across the state have passed ballot initiatives exempting them, in one form or another, from TABOR restrictions. Those voter-approved initiatives allow those entities to retain vital tax dollars to tackle public safety, important infrastructure, road and bridge and other critical needs of their communities.
From 2015 – 2019, Jeffco hit the TABOR cap each year, requiring the county to refund $111 million dollars over the last four years that the county could have reinvested in public safety, roads, mental healthcare, wildfire protection and other areas.
“For several years, we have been drawing down our reserve to cover expenses that revenues haven’t kept up with. This isn’t sustainable and now that we are at our reserve limit we have to make cuts absent a revenue solution,” said County Manager Don Davis. “In October, we asked everyone to look at a 10 percent cut; now that we’ve gotten our close-out numbers, we were able to bring that down to seven percent in each department, division and elected office. This is merely the beginning of the budget process that results in a final budget by December.”
Jeffco wants to hear from the community on what matters most to them and how they would like to see the county address the budget shortfall. For more information on the budget and process, citizens can attend budget hearings, which are open to the public, and join the Commissioners’ Telephone Townhall on May 8 at 6:30 p.m. More information on this one-hour, over-the-phone meeting can be found at www.jeffco.us/townhall.
Jeffco will continue to post updates online, and community members can also see the county’s OpenGov Financial Transparency Portal, which includes more information on the budget. You can also always reach out to your county commissioner – find their contact information at www.jeffco.us/663.