County hits ’07 budget marks

Auditor unsure about a repeat in '08

By Scott Rasmussen

As quarterly financial reports go, none is more telling than the fourth.

That because it reveals, among other things, how close San Juan County’s budget gurus came in predicting the amount of money the county would spend and how much revenue that it would receive 12 months in advance of setting its annual financial plan in motion.

According to county Auditor Milene Henley, the 2007 fourth-quarter results show the county faired better than expected financially. In fact, she said, back out of the equation the $800,000-and-change carried over from the previous year and the county came out about $1 million on the plus side for the 12 months of the year.

“It’s not a bad year altogether” she said.

In 2007, the county started out with a $45.1 million budget for all departments, including Public Works, Parks and the Land Bank. Its general fund, which covers day-to-day expenses of numerous departments — though not the three mentioned above or Roads, as well as several others — totaled nearly $13.3 million.

Based on fourth-quarter results, the county exceeded its financial targets despite shortfalls in some revenue categories. Sales-tax collections dipped about $200,000 below forecasts, while revenue from licenses and permits and the amount generated by fines and forfeitures, missed the mark by about $85,000 and $27,000, respectively.

Those shortfalls were outweighed by nearly $500,000 in budgeted expenses which the county did not spend. In addition, it collected nearly $600,000 more in revenue than anticipated if that $837,000 infusion of “beginning cash” is subtracted from the equation. Taking out the “cash carry-forward”, according to Henley, provides a more accurate reflection of the financial performance over 12 months of any calendar year.

“It’s not a bad year altogether,” she said.

However, Henley said hitting this year’s budget targets may prove more difficult. Unlike last year, she doesn’t expect the county will earn the nearly $500,000 more in investment income than anticipated. Perhaps of greater concern is last year’s 5 percent downturn in sales-tax revenue.

“That’s substantial,” she said.

Still, there are some positive signs on the local landscape, Henley said.

She said income from fines, forfeitures, licenses and permits should increase this year now that the Sheriff and planning departments are fully-staffed. Also, she said the local excavators she’s talked with of late are on the job and that suggests applications for building permits and revenue for the county are likely to follow.

Pushed for a predication last week by the county council, Henley said there’s little flexibility on the expense side of the ’08 budget and no apparent windfall on the horizon.

“I don’t see anything about the economy that would say we’ve under-budgeted for revenue,” Henley said. “I think we’ll do well if we meet the budget.”