COVID-19 did not deliver a financial blow, so Eagle County plans strategic priority spending in 2022

A cyclist makes his way along the Eagle Valley Trail on a warm winter’s Monday near Wolcott. In 2021, Eagle County issued certificates of attendance to fund completion of the decades-long project, and trail work is planned as part of the 2022 budget.

As they prepared Eagle County’s 2021 budget, members of the county’s finance team prepared for the worst.

But then something unexpected happened: The global COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t hit as hard as they’d thought.

“Yes, we entered a recession during COVID, but it was the shortest recession in US history,” said Jill Klosterman, Eagle County Chief Financial Officer. “And we had a huge sales tax year. Year-to-date, we are up 26% from 2020.”

As the year nears the end of a budget forecast of a major drop in sales tax revenues, the county expects to collect about $25 million.

“Last year we had no idea whether people would come here to ski or not,” says Klosterman. Eventually, visitors did come and the locals increased tourist expenditure.

“People didn’t go out of the province to buy their goods. They ordered more, something they would be more comfortable with in 2021,” said Klosterman. “We now know a lot more about how to live and function in a COVID-19 world than we did at this time last year.”

That knowledge helped formulate the county’s 2022 budget, Klosterman continued.

“We are cautiously optimistic. We look at what’s happening in the world, but we don’t really see anything that would make us super conservative on this budget,” she said.

Strategic priorities

Faced with a budget that won’t be as meager as expected, the provincial commissioners are focusing on employee retention and strategic goals.

Like other major employers in the valley, the county has a hard time finding workers. The 2022 budget will address that problem by including both wage increases and wage increases. Klosterman said the amount earmarked for wages is not yet final, but will likely be between 4% and 7%.

“We are not isolated from the consequences of the Great Resignation and the labor shortage,” she said. “We want to try to keep our employees happy.”

In addition to wage allocation, the province views its list of strategic priorities as a budget roadmap. At the top of that list is staff housing.

In 2021, better-than-expected revenue led the county to approve $10 million for the Daring moves program. By the end of the year, approximately $4.5 million of that money will have been spent, with the remaining $5.5 million allocated for 2022.

Klosterman noted that much of the program focused on immediate intervention. As a result, dollars went toward increasing down payment assistance and financing more deed-limited units. There were also medium-term projects, such as providing financing to homeowners to build associated housing units.

But major projects where the province is participating in the construction of new personnel units are longer term solutions and more expensive. Klosterman noted that $1.5 million has been set aside of the original $10 million to help plan and launch that ambitious work.

“We have also entered into a listing agreement to sell Lake Creek Village. When that sale happens, we’ll have a plan to spend that money to build new units and work with developers to really impact housing needs,” Klosterman said. “We’ll use all the tools we have.”

The 2022 county budget also includes funding for other priorities, including early childhood education, economic diversification, transportation, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating wildfires.

$1.7 million has been allocated for access to and quality early childhood education.

Not only is quality and affordable childcare difficult to find in Eagle County, it is also becoming impossible for providers to maintain the status quo while battling staffing and funding challenges amid a massive community need.
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“The workforce shortage hit early childhood jobs just as hard, if not more so than any other industry,” Klosterman noted.

A new county economic development program will receive $225,000 in funding over the next few years, and the greenhouse gas reduction effort is slated for $1.6 million.

“The federal infrastructure law also includes a lot of energy-related funding,” Klosterman said. “We just don’t know yet how that will translate into our budget.”

She noted that the county will continue its Energy Smart program to provide grants to residents that replace older, inefficient systems, and its partnerships with Walking Mountains Science Center and the Roaring Fork Valley Community Office for Resource Efficiency to address energy needs. of low-income residents.

“We also plan to purchase more electric and hybrid vehicles for our fleet, including the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office,” Klosterman said. “We had a limited opportunity to purchase new vehicles in 2021 due to supply chain issues.”

In recent years, wildfires have been made a top priority for county officials, she continued. “We are actively talking about the right amount of local dollars to invest in this very high priority,” she said. The draft budget has earmarked 1.2 million dollars, but that amount is subject to change. “The infrastructure deal has money for this too, probably through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.”

At the end of the path

To round out the strategic priorities, there is a project that has been decades in the making: the Eagle Valley Trail.

in 2021, the county has issued $8.7 million work on certificates of attendance to complete the valley cycle path. Of that, $3.7 million was spent in 2021. Klosterman noted that work will be done over the next year on some of the final and some of the most difficult, unfinished pieces.

“It includes the Duck Pond to Dotsero section, the construction of EagleVail Phase II, and the planning from Wolcott to Edwards,” she said. “We think we may need to acquire a little more right-of-way or land if we continue with that work.”

From left to right, Dick Cleveland, Tim McGuire, Jeanne McQueeney, Matt Scherr, Peter Lombardi, Shoshana Lew, Will Kearney and Kevin Sharkey cut the ribbon on the new section of the Eagle Valley Trail at EagleVail last month. In 2022, the province will work on some of the last and some of the most difficult stretches of the unfinished trail.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

In total, the county’s operational/general fund budget will be $49 million by 2022. total $160 million.

The public hearing on Eagle County’s 2022 budget is scheduled for Tuesday, December 7. The Eagle County Board of Commissioners will approve the final budget on Tuesday, December 14.

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