EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. (KRDO) -- Commissioners on Tuesday held the first of five scheduled public hearings as part of the approval process for next year's budget.
Nikki Simmons, county controller, presented the administration's preliminary budget; it focuses specifically on discretionary spending (what commissioners can control) and not on spending that is mandated by the state or federal government.
The largest single expenditure proposed is for "high impact" road improvements -- a one-time allocation of $10 million and an annual addition of $1 million.
"How soon we can start those projects depends on whether we follow the normal contract (bid) process or do the work ourselves," said Kevin Mastin, the county's public works director.
Mastin already has a preliminary list of roads to be improved with the extra funding, but it won't be finalized until after commissioners approve the budget in December.
More road funding will be available if voters next month allow the county to retain an estimated $15 million in surplus revenue; $13 million of that amount would be dedicated to roads.
A road condition audit this summer revealed that nearly two-thirds of the county's paved and gravel roads are in poor condition or worse.
"We've been trying to increase road funding since 2017," Simmons told commissioners. "We allocated an additional $2.3 million that year and are looking at $20.1 million more (next year)."
The proposed budget also includes spending $7.4 million in pay raises for county employees, to offset an expected 3.5% cost of living increase next year.
Filling job vacancies in ten departments will cost the county around $3.6 million.
"We're also going to conduct a salary study to see how many county positions are underfunded," Simmons said. "Increasing pay where needed would help address issues we're having with employee turnover."
There could be other critical budget needs revealed by department heads during an upcoming budget hearing.
Simmons also announced that taxpayers will receive an average of $19 from a refund of surplus tax revenue, while homeowners will get an average refund of $24 from a decrease in property taxes net year.
"Even though we're the fastest-growing and most populated county in the state, the TABOR Amendment limits how much property taxes can increase," she said.