So said Pete Blair of Blair and Associates P.C., of Cedaredge, in summing up his company’s annual audit of the county’s financial health. Blair presented a summary of his report to the Board of County Commissioners at their regular meeting in Ouray on Tuesday.
He lauded the county’s successful matching of budgeted and actual expenditures compared to revenues. “On expenditures, you were very conservative, which is a great thing,” Blair said.
“Yay,” exclaimed Commission Chair Heidi Albritton.
“We do 50 governmental audits in five Colorado counties,” Blair said, “and Ouray did really well.”
Blair pointed out some highlights. Assets exceeded liabilities by about $7 million, he said, an increase of $488,000 over the previous year. The total of all governmental funds had an ending balance of nearly $3 million, an increase of over half million dollars compared to 2009.
“The general fund is the most important,” Blair said. “And you’re doing what you need to do there.” The general fund increased by $214,000 from 2009 to a total of $677,000 in 2010.
“On debt,” Blair reported, “compared to other counties, you’re doing great. You have very little debt.” Long-term liabilities decreased by $165,000, and the county issued no new debt.
“We have no recommendations this year. Except to give the staff, particularly County Administrator Connie Hunt, a hand.”
Albritton concluded: “I hope the public can feel good about how their money is being managed.”
CONGRESSMAN TIPTON SAYS NO TO FULL FUNDING OF PILT
Commissioner Lynn Padgett reported distressing news to the full board Tuesday about important federal funding sources PILT (Payment In Lieu of Taxes) and SRS (Secure Rural Schools).
At a Club 20 meeting recently she asked 3rd District Congressman Scott Tipton, “Are you going to support full funding of PILT and SRS in 2012 [when the current mandate ends]? And he said, ‘No.’”
PILT money comes to counties across the U.S. that have significant federal Forest Service or BLM lands. (Ouray County is 48 percent public land. In the 29 counties that make up Tipton’s district, the average is 51 percent.) Those lands don’t pay property taxes, but do require county expenditures, in Ouray’s case hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, for road maintenance, snow plowing, search-and-rescue, and a high-country ranger.
SRS monies “come from a different pot,” Padgett said. Formerly called Forest Payments, Padgett said they are a “shareback of fees” on federal timber sales. As the timber industry is down, SRS funds have fallen drastically from 2008 levels. But they are still important locally. Last year the Ouray R1 school district received nearly $24,000 in SRS monies, while the Ridgway R2 district got almost $35,000. Padgett and others would like to see a return to 2008 figures, when Ouray County received $97,000 in SRS.
Both PILT and SRS have felt budget-slashing pressure from Congressional Republicans. Tipton justified his lack of support for the programs by explaining to Padgett his understanding of what the national forests were created for: watershed protection, and for generating timber products. If you’re not generating timber products, Padgett reported Tipton as saying, then counties and schools can’t expect the funds.
“Does that mean that if my business isn’t making money this year, then I don’t have to pay my property tax?” Commissioner Heidi Albritton said with evident sarcasm. Because this is the law. “It doesn’t mean you can shirk your responsibility.”
“What the counties need, and what the schools need,” Padgett concluded, “is dependable, annual, budget-able funds from PILT and SRS. Yes, both programs need reforming. But we need to lobby for full funding in 2012. And the school districts need to get involved in this.”
“My concern,” Albritton said, “is if Tipton doesn’t agree . . . he’s the one who [needs to] fight for this.”
BOILER REPLACEMENT PROGRAM REAPING SAVINGS
Will Clapsadl, County Facilities Manager, told commissioners this week that the Courthouse Boiler Replacement Project had received its first energy audit, and the results are even better than expected.
“I’m real pleased. We’re right on track for our 2009 estimate on what we could possibly save.” The upgrade, a collaboration of the Governor’s Energy Office and contractor Ennovate Corp, out of Aurora, Colo., had a guaranteed annual savings on energy costs of $10,635. And the first year numbers came in at $11,066 in savings.
With the new boilers, the county is now spending $6,000 a year on natural gas, where in years past it had spent an average of $18,000 in fuel oil.
“So why,” asked Commissioner Mike Fedel, “did the electrical usage increase” in the past year?
“I’m not sure,” Clapsadl replied. “I noticed that too. We have new programmable thermostats, but they should save energy. The snowmelt system in the sidewalk is fully automated now, but that shouldn’t cause an increase. The only thing I can think of is that people [working in the courthouse] are using more space heaters . . . I’ve seen space heaters on desks, left on, overnight.”
Clapsadl admitted, “There are real thermostat challenges” in a 120-year-old building, especially on the north side in winter. “We’ve measured 42 degrees on windowsills and 130 degrees at floor level where computer servers are generating lots of heat.”
Commissioners Lynn Padgett offered an idea: “Can we put the servers on a baker’s shelf up by the window? I’m not being unserious. Reducing the cost of our heating by 10 grand is really good, but there is still some low hanging fruit in savings.” She suggested using the county budget to pay for window inserts, just for the north side, and having them installed before this winter. Commissioners agreed that Administrator Connie Hunt and Clapsadl should “work on this.”
All agreed that employee behavior and individual temperature comfort levels were perhaps the toughest challenges to further reducing overhead. Padgett suggested a carrot approach: “Let’s offer a one-day ski pass to the employee who cuts back the most. Let’s get this down!”
Albritton, tongue slightly in cheek, suggested that the names of space heater abusers be posted on the bulletin board. “They should be publically humiliated,” she said with a smile.
AIR FORCE FLYOVER PLAN IS AVAILABLE FOR COMMENT
County Administrator Connie Hunt told the BOCC this week that a Draft Environmental Assessment for the LATN (Low Altitude Training Area) plan announced a year ago by the Air Force is finally available for public comment.
You can see the EA online at: www.cannon.af.mil/library/environment.asp.
Comments can be mailed to: 27 SOW Public Affairs, 110 E. Sextant Ave., Suite 1150, Cannon AFB, NM 88103.
The plan proposes training exercises in the mountainous terrain of the San Juans at very low altitudes, as low as 200 feet above the ground, for C-130 and Osprey aircraft. County commissioners, as well as environmental groups, including Ridgway Ouray Community Congress and Sheep Mountain Alliance, requested last summer that the Air Force take into consideration noise impacts on tourism, animal populations, avalanche hazard, local air traffic, and other factors. The EA was released Sept. 7, and commissioners had not yet had a chance to see if their concerns were addressed.
The comment period for the EA is open until Nov. 5, 2011.