Delta County’s conservative budget process got an A-plus this year from auditor Pete Blair.
At about $25.4 million, Delta County’s budget is modest compared to bigger and more populous neighboring counties. Federal funding for health and human services adds another $12 million, with about half of that going to food assistance.
The latest audit by CPA Blair shows the County in a better fiscal position than last year.
“Overall you have no debt at the end of 2012, which is remarkable,” Blair said to a meeting of the county commissioners. “You increased your fund balances in all your major areas, and overall on a total accrual basis, you increased by about $1.6 million, so yes, you are in much better shape than you were in 2011, in fact you’re in really good shape.”
Although the county overspent by about $100,000, it ended firmly in the black because of increased income.
“The big difference was an increase in sales tax, about $117,000, mineral leasing increased by about $600,000, and the severance tax was increased by $106,000,” Blair said.
Mineral Leasing Funds are paid on coal production on federal lands in Delta County and severance taxes are paid by the coal mines in the North Fork Valley.
But commissioners expressed concern about congressional inaction on PILT funds – the payment in lieu of property taxes that the Feds pay on federal land. Created in 1976, the program this year made payments to 1,850 counties across the country, as mandated by President Obama. Now, unless Congress acts, the program will become discretionary and payments will likely decrease.
Commissioner Doug Atchley noted that more than half of the county’s 735,000 acres is exempt from property tax.
“Delta County’s about 55-56 percent federal land between BLM and Forest Service,” said Atchley. “This is somewhat of a recognition that PILT money compensates for a lack of taxes from those lands. But it’s a miniscule compared to how many acres you’re talking about.”
Last year the County received about $140,000 in lieu of taxes on more than 500 square miles of federal land, compared to about $4.5 million in property tax revenues.
In addition to concerns about the PILT money, there is uncertainty about the impact of a weakened economy, declining property values, and decreased federal funding for mandated programs. But for now, Blair noted the county’s distinction.
“I do five county audits now, and you’re the only county I do that does not have any debt,” said Blair.
Blair also serves as President of the School Board and was the auditor who in 2010 discovered discrepancies in the Town of Paonia’s accounting that led to embezzlement charges against former employee Kristin Chesnik.