La Plata County commissioners approved the 2021 budget Tuesday that calls for several construction and development projects that aim to send an economic jolt during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In all, the county’s budget calls for more than $85.7 million in revenues and more than $115 million in expenditures in the upcoming year. Many of those expenditures are one-time capital improvement projects.
One of the biggest surprises, said county financial analyst Josh Davidson, was the sales tax increase of an estimated $766,000, a result of a strong year in tourism throughout the county.
Finance Director Adam Rogers said third-quarter lodgers tax results show an estimated 67% increase from the same quarter in 2019.
In contrast, property tax was expected to decrease about $592,000. For years, the county relied on property tax as the main part of its revenue, but that has shifted as the oil and gas industry has declined in the region.
This year’s budget is in stark contrast to years past, said Commissioner Julie Westendorff, when county officials, fearing dramatic budget shortfalls, were forced to cut services to the community.
But in the past two years, the county’s budget has shown signs of evening out, allowing county officials to reinvest in public services.
“It’s quite different than it was in 2013,” Westendorff said, referring to her first budget review year as commissioner. Tuesday marked the last budget review for Westendorff and Commissioner Gwen Lachelt, who are both term-limited.
This year, for instance, the county plans several projects that are in part expected to help send an economic jolt to counter the negative financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was not immediately clear Tuesday afternoon which projects were ultimately selected for the upcoming year, until the 2021 budget is posted online.
Previously, the proposed list included cleaning up lead issues at the gun range near La Posta Road (County Road 213), retrofitting county buildings with solar energy and remodeling the vacant DeNier Youth Services Center building.
Other proposed projects included: contributing money to help install a regional weather radar station, refurbishing the Old Main Post Office, constructing an autopsy room for the La Plata County Coroner’s Office and improving La Posta Road.
Westendorff said incoming commissioners Marsha Porter-Norton and Matt Salka will enter a landscape much different than when she and Lachelt arrived, a time when county officials held a pessimistic view about revenues.
“Previously, we were afraid ... with the decline of oil and gas revenues,” Westendorff said. “We didn’t want to get caught having over-spent, and so we tightened the belt very tight.”
An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect time period in describing the 67% increase in lodgers tax. The increase occurred during the third quarter of this year and was being compared with the third quarter of 2019.