Citizen Report presents formal budget objections to Commissioners

 The letter below was presented to the Commissioners this morning —
November 20, 2017
Dear Delta County Commissioners Douglas Atchley, Mark Roeber and Don Suppes:
Adopting a fiscally responsible, publicly transparent county budget is the single most important act that you, as County Commissioners, do each year. The 2018 proposed budget, as it currently stands, is a poor representation of that act.
The proposed budget lacks fiscal responsibly given the unallocated, large reserve balance that is carried over, year-to-year, without adequate explanation. And it lacks transparency given its limited public involvement and its incomplete and poorly presented format.
Pursuant to Colorado Revised Statute 29 (CRS 29), short titled “Local Government Budget Law of Colorado,” Citizen Report, representing the residents of Delta County, formally objects to the following issues listed below concerning the 2018 Proposed Delta County Budget, revision two, publicly posted, Nov. 14, 2017.
• Open meetings law states that public notice will occur whenever a quorum of County Commissioners are present to discuss county business. Public notification of budget work sessions with department heads and County Commissioners did not occur. Meeting dates appeared on the initial draft budget less than 24 hours before the first department met with Commissioners on Oct. 24.
• CRS 29 requires a statement at the time of notification that says “any interested elector of the local government may file any objections to the proposed budget at any time prior to the final adoption of the budget by the governing body.” This important message was never posted.
• CRS 29 requires a written message describing the important features of the proposed budget, including a statement of the budgetary basis of accounting used and a description of the services to be delivered during the budget year. Administrator Robbie LeValley posted a separate document outside of the proposed budget. And while the budgetary basis is included in Mrs. LeValley’s statement, it fails to include several important features:
a. Budget Overview – the total budget amount, for example, is not even mentioned. Nor are year-to-year comparisons.
b. Complete Revenue Summary. This subject is just touched on in the statement.
c. Property Tax Detail. The county assessor has brought to the forefront issues concerning the Gallagher Amendment, for example, and yet there is no mention of it in this statement.
d. Expenditure Summary. Capital investment is mentioned and Economic Development is very briefly touched on but no other information is provided.
e. Fund Balances. The county’s reserves are not even mentioned let alone the practice, motivation and explanation behind them.
• CRS 29 requires a complete financial plan by fund. The Fair Board Fund is missing entirely from the budget. The Animal Control Fund is included twice.
• CRS 29 requires expenditures be listed by object. The proposed budget lacks public transparency concerning detailed appropriations within several funds including:
a. Conservation Trust Fund (District proportions without stated objects)
b. Open Space Fund (District proportions without stated objects)
c. Capital Project Fund:
a. $50,000 Library District allocation object missing
b. $27,000 Human Services Vehicle object missing
c. $99,650 Landfill Liner object missing
d. Escalante Bridge Replacement object missing
e. Radio Replacement for Dispatch object missing
f. Trails Plan mentioned in budget message and is listed by object but has zero allotment
• CRS 29 requires balances be listed by fund. The Capital Improvements Fund is missing lines 6 & 7, which indicate ending balance reserves on Dec. 31 in all other funds.
The above objections are violations of state statute. What follows are general objections to the proposed budget:
• The 2018 proposed budget lacks reasonable reserve funds policy that sets minimum and maximum budget reserves and describes how reserves might be spent. Scott Olene with the Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) Budget and Finance office advised that while law (except the 3% TABOR reserve) does not require a reserve policy with minimum and maximum thresholds, best practices recommend such policies. The county has set a target of 25% reserve but has no cap while proposes a 48% reserve in the 2018 budget, without explanation;
• Lacks reserve funds statement of appropriations. The County will start the year with $16.3 million in the bank and it plans to end the year with $16.5 million. The County targets a reserve of 25% of the annual budget. This amount equals $8.5 million; subtract $525,000 in required TABOR reserves and another $1,000,000 for other contingencies; that leaves almost $7 million that Commissioners haven’t clearly or publicly appropriated. That’s $233 for every resident in Delta County. Moreover, these funds are languishing in accounts earning much less than the current rate of inflation – they are eroding in value every year. While reserve funds are vital in a responsible budget, excess, unappropriated funds simply lose taxpayer dollars;
• Fails as a communication device. While neighboring counties and towns provide bountiful narratives and info-graphics in their budgets (I’ve submitted two samples into the record), Delta County’s budget consists of 95 pages of blurred, rescanned balance sheets. The Government Finance Officers Association defines a good budget as a policy document, an operations guide, a financial plan, and as a communications device. DOLA further emphasized the importance of designing a budget that communicates a county’s financial vision for the year and the services the governing body plans to provide.
Citizen Report concludes with a summary list of presentation objections to the current proposed budget:
a. Format is a dead image and not searchable
b. No table of contents
c. No index or definitions of terms
d. No visual graphs to aid explanation
e. No page numbers for navigation
f. Revisions are not noted or sequenced
g. Acronyms used without explanation
h. Fund accounts are without summary narratives
To conclude, the proposed County budget is substandard and fails to meet state statute. We ask that the infractions be corrected before adoption.
Further, we believe that County Commissioners, county staff and our citizens deserve a much better effort in the future and would like to see the Commissioners appoint an outside firm to help the County develop a professional, accessible and useful county budget report.
JoAnn Kalenak, President,
Delta County Citizen Report
Supporting docs:
A. CR Budget Summary Sheet
B. Gunnison budget example
C. Paonia budget example
D. Ouray budget example
F. DOLA PowerPoint presentation on budget development