Covid phases

The state has developed stages that counties are classified by according to COVID-19 cases and preparedness for surges. The highest is Protect Our Neighbors. Five counties have met PON requirements. Park County, currently at Safer at Home Level 3, will soon apply for PON status. The commissioners approved the application Oct. 15. (Map from Park County Public Health presentation)

Assistant Manager Cindy Gharst submitted the draft 2021 county budget to the county commissioners Oct. 15.

The Flume rounded all dollar amounts in this article.

A copy of the draft 2021 budget can be found in the Park County Clerk and Recorder’s Office and online at www.parkco.us under government tab and then the county budget tab.

It’s about $600,000 more than 2020’s expected year-end totals. Revenue is estimated at $36 million with estimated expenses of $35.9 million.

The commissioners and county departments will work on refining it between now and the preliminary budget hearing held Nov. 19.

Public comment on the county budget will accepted at the November budget hearing.

It will be finalized for adoption in mid-December.

The budget message states the document is a baseline prior to decisions about additional funding requests.

Currently, it does not include a cost of living or merit raises for employees.

Monitoring the impacts of COVID-19 has led to a cautious approach in developing the 2021 budget, especially in relation to staffing levels, vacancies and purchasing essentials.

The county received funding from the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment and from the Department of Local Affairs to cover costs of responding to the pandemic.

The budget messages states funding was used for personnel protective equipment, contact tracer personnel and emergency assistance grants to small businesses and nonprofits, and other related costs.

Several departments had higher expenses than normal due to COVID in 2020. It’s anticipated that will continue into 2021. See more about COVID below under “Protect Our Neighbors.”  

The county is currently working on a second step of a jail assessment to evaluate jail operations and staffing requirements. The first step was concluded in 2016 according to the budget message.  

Another issue that will impact the 2021 budget will be health insurance renewal in January.

Gharst said the county had a few high dollar claims in 2018 and 2019 which increased premiums.

Claims were lower in 2020 and that led to a five percent reduction in renewal quotes for 2021.  

The commissioners will decide which medical plan and what rates the county and employees will pay in the coming weeks.

Decisions will reflect the county’s share in the general fund and the employees share in the self insurance fund.

Even the sales tax fund was impacted by COVID, but for the positive.

Sales tax revenue increased about 27 percent this year over the same time period last year. That’s because a new law went into effect July 2019. It required collecting sales taxes on online purchases plus this year: More residents are ordering online.

Last year’s revenue totaled $1.34 million and 2020’s revenue is anticipated to be around $1.8 million.

The draft 2021 budget does not include any projects, so a $7 million fund balance is far higher than is actually expected.

A note on the fund balance summary page of the budgetstates that the sales tax fund will be updated after the land and water trust fund board meets on Nov. 4.

Commissioner Dick Elsner was concerned about having a high fund balance if projects weren’t found to reduce the $4.4 million fund balance that the fund had at the beginning of 2020.

Currently, $1.8 million in projects have been approved, but not yet completed.

Applications in the amount of about $1.3 million were submitted for consideration at the LWTF board’s November meeting.

Most of the committed funding is for conservation easements, land purchases for outdoor recreation and stream restorations.

Two other funds have over $4 million in their fund balances.

The draft budget shows the general fund had a fund balance of about $4.5 million at the beginning of 2020. The fund was able to save money, ending with a fund balance estimate of $4.7 million.

The projected revenue outlook for 2021 will not cover expenses of $16 million.  About $600,000 of the fund balance will be needed to balance the general fund, leaving the fund balance at $4.1 million at the end of 2021.

The public works budget had a little under $5 million in the fund balance at the beginning of 2020.

With expenses of $5.6 million in 2020 and $6.6 million in 2021, the fund balance will be decreased to $3 million.

Revenue for public works is mostly from vehicle fuel taxes. It is expected to increase from $4.8 million in 2020 to $5.5 million in 2021. No reason was given for the expected increase.

The human services fund budget increased a little over $1.2 million. Most of the fund’s revenue is from the federal and states governments for specific programs.

The food stamp program is an example of COVID-19 impacts. In 2019, the program spent $2.1 million helping families with food costs.

The 2020 year-end estimate is $2.6 million and $3.5 million and is expected to be needed in 2021 for the food stamp program.

The low income energy assistance program shows a similar trend at $175,000 last year (2019) increasing to $350,000 in 2021.

The sheriff’s budget will remain about the same as 2020 at $3.1 million.

The jail budget will also remain about the same as 2020 at a little over $1.9 million.

The budget message ends with a statement that the draft budget presented in November might be significantly different from the document presented to the commissioners Oct. 15.

Protect our neighbors

The commissioners approved the application for Lynn Ramey, public health director, to apply for the next step in Colorado’s COVID-19 response.

It is called Protect Our Neighbors and requires receiving a state certification before allowing larger group sizes and more activities.

It also allows counties to develop individual plans to reopen and contain positive cases.

Counties which obtain the PON certification are still required to wear masks and social distance from others.

If numbers increase or other matrixes aren’t met for any two week period, the county automatically moves back to the previous level.

To date, Denver and Adams counties have been the hardest hit with over 16, 000 cases in Denver and over 12,000 in Adams as of Oct. 20. Arapahoe is not far behind with a little over 11,000.

As of Oct. 20, the total number of cases in Colorado is over 86,000 with over 2,000 deaths.

As of Oct. 20, 81 residents and one death have been recorded in Park County. Cases on the state’s website are updated daily.

Each county’s general data can be found on the state’s COVID website at www.covid19colorado.gov.

Currently, five counties have obtained PON certifications and 29 are currently at the Safer at Home level three. The remaining are at level 2 of SAH.

Ramey said it is a lengthy application where counties must show proof of meeting the required eight metrics.

Examples include less than five percentage positivity rate, a two week supply of personal protective equipment, stable or declining hospitalizations and fewer new cases than the previous two weeks number of new cases.

Ramey said the county has seen a slight increase in cases since Labor Day. Park County had six active cases as of Oct. 15, but two more were recorded on Colorado’s website Oct. 20.

A surge protection plan to contain outbreaks is another requirement. Ramey said an outbreak is defined as three or more cases from different households.

She said Park County is still seeing most cases come from working out of the county and then spreading to other family members.

The schools are working on plans to contain outbreaks such as fewer students in a group and students staying in the same group for all classes.

Ramey said if someone shows symptoms or is diagnosed students in that group can be isolated to reduce the risk of COVID 19 spreading.

Schools also need a plan to reduce risks during sporting events.

Ramey said the application, including graphs showing trends, is completed.

The next step is to obtain letters of support for the county’s containment and mitigation plans.

Letters are required from town mayors, local law enforcement, nearby hospitals and local emergency management offices.

Jail food contract

An amendment was approved for the food & commissary services agreement with Trinity Services, LLC to provide meals at the county jail.

The agreement is for one year and includes a 3.1 percent increase. It also breaks prices down by the number of inmates served.

Pricing begins at five prisoners and changes for every five prisoners up to 30. Then pricing varies based on every ten meals served.

Pricing is high for fewer than 10 and 15 prisoners at $25.60 per meal for fewer than 10 and $13.09 per meal for 10 to 14 inmates. From 15 to 19, the price is $8.92.

Pricing then drops by a dollar to two dollars for every five inmates until 29 are reached at $5.59 per meal.

With 30 or more inmates, pricing changes for every ten inmates by varying rates. Starting at $4.76 for 30 and decreasing to $1.88 for 159 inmates.

Elsner said the pricing is cheaper than what Park County would spend to provide meals if the jail hired cooks and bought food especially if prisoners required different meals for health or religious reasons.

Commissioner Mike Brazell commented that the commissioners had not held an executive session for longer than usual. He asked the attorney Erin Smith if that translated to fewer lawsuits being filed.

Smith said yes. Most lawsuits arise from jail operations and because courts aren’t as active during the pandemic, she does receive updates on cases as quickly as usual.

  Smith said one property tax lien case was filed recently that she will bring to the commissioners in the near future.

Vouchers

Vouchers for the last two weeks were approved. The first was for $237,539 and the second was for $433, 871.

Elsner said part of the increase for vouchers approved for the week of Oct 15 was because public works had an engine rebuilt. It cost about $158,000; which is much cheaper than buying new equipment.

He didn’t say what piece of equipment he was referring to.

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