Douglas budget looks healthy for coming year | TahoeDailyTribune.com
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Douglas budget looks healthy for coming year

A healthy state and local economy has contributed to a 3.1 percent projected increase in Douglas County’s budget, but lingering details over salary negotiations and rising health care costs could result in adjustments.

County commissioners will pore over the $79 million fiscal 2001-02 budget, which county number crunchers say is healthy, thanks largely to a countywide increase in property values.

“We are fortunate enough that we have had another year of strong assessed valuation growth and good numbers from state consolidated taxes,” said Michael Brown, administrative services director for Douglas County.



However, still clouding this year’s projected budget are iron-clad figures for personnel costs, such as salaries and benefits. Douglas County has not reached an agreement with its three unions over their contracts.

Personnel represents the largest category of expenditures in the budget. It accounts for $26.6 million, or 47 percent, of total expenditures, Brown said.



A sharp increase in employee benefit costs is projected in all county funds and departments, Brown said, with health insurance costs expected to increase by 30 percent for medical coverage, 10 percent in dental coverage and 8 percent in vision.

“Managing the rising cost of health care has and will continue to be a significant issue in budget development and employee relations,” Brown wrote in the county’s tentative budget message.

This year’s increase for personnel is projected at 10.4 percent over last year, a figure officials believe is a fair representation of what the county can afford, Brown said.

On the revenue end, $54 million has been generated for Douglas County, mainly through property taxes, which accounts for $9.7 million, the state consolidated tax at $9.5 million, county service charges at $7.3 million and room taxes at $6.1 million. Nearly 50 percent of the county’s revenues come from property tax, room tax and state consolidated taxes.

The biggest jump came from a local sales tax implemented in 1998 that replaces room tax money that was shifted for tourism promotion. Some $1.4 million is tentatively budgeted with the money, a 31.8 percent increase.

Meanwhile, gaming figures dipped, with the county receiving $40,000 less this year over last year. Budgeted figures for gaming are $2.14 million.

A combination of a healthy increase in property tax revenue from countywide property reappraisal, strong construction activity estimates and a stable state tax distribution has provided the much-needed increase in revenues, Brown said.

But the future does look uncertain, Brown added. A major concern is that property value growth will stabilize as the state and local economy emulates national economic trends, Brown said.

“We will be facing an even more difficult task in future years if we cannot find additional revenues or hold the line on employee costs,” Brown said. “If we cannot maintain that growth, then I anticipate next year’s budget to be more difficult.”

Total appropriations, minus internal charges, transfers, fund balances and reserves are budgeted at $49 million. The expenditure side of the budget is where the board prioritizes services for the county, Brown said. Some of the most significant challenges facing the county are health care costs, public safety, road maintenance, construction of new roads and related transportation improvements, senior and youth services and utility system upgrades, he said.

Appropriations in terms of capital projects will go down this year by 17 percent, mainly because the county has already completed a number of building, water and sewer projects, Brown said. Major capital improvement projects are road repairs along Lake Parkway in Stateline, estimated to cost $1.1 million, airport improvements at $900,000 and roof replacements and building repairs, estimated to cost about $450,000.

Commissioners will be closely watching this year’s legislative session, as long-term care for the elderly is among this year’s biggest legislative issues, according to the budget report.

The recent closure of a skilled nursing facility has caused a shift to assisted living, which means it becomes a county cost, not a state cost, as Medicaid does not pay for assisted living.

Gov. Kenny Guinn’s pay raise proposal requires retroactive pay on the 50-50 split for community health nurses. This may cost the county an additional $20,000 this year, Brown said.

Funding for countywide promotional efforts will increase slightly, with the Tahoe Douglas Visitors Authority getting the bulk share, around $2 million.

The Carson Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Authority will receive a $19,000 increase. The total budget for promotions funding is $2.67 million.

Details

What: Douglas County Board of Commissioners, tentative budget hearings.

When: 4 p.m. Wednesday and 4 p.m. Thursday at the Douglas County Administrative Building, 1616 Eighth Avenue, Minden.


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