At its July 6 meeting, the Grand County Commission held a public hearing on a mid-year budget amendment. Due to increased revenues from transient room, sales, and use taxes, and federal grants from the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan Act, the 2021 budget has increased by $12,141,609.

Initial projections of sales and use taxes were based on the expectation of flat growth in the local economy for 2020 compared to 2019. County planners didn’t know what to expect after the coronavirus pandemic shutdowns. What happened was a huge influx of visitors. Year-to-date, overall county tax revenues are 58% greater than for the same period in 2019.

Recent legislation passed at the state level also allows for a greater percentage of transient room taxes to be spent on tourism mitigation, rather than promotion. Instead of being required to spend 47% of TRT on promotion, the county now only has to spend 37%.

Commission Administrator Chris Baird, who explained the amendments to the budget, said, “It’s a good thing that we got that legislation passed this year because it made a big difference this year—about a $980,000 difference.”

Commissioner Kevin Walker joked that the budget presentation was a “victory lap” for Baird, who worked hard to get the TRT reform passed at the state legislature. The total increase in TRT, with a greater percentage being available in the county’s General Fund, increased that fund by about $3.2 million.

Baird adjusted the budget to use federal grant money to cover eligible expenses, freeing up unrestricted county money. For example, an operational grant that went towards the airport allowed taxes from restaurants and car rentals to go toward the Old Spanish Trail Arena. Shifts like this, and other changes to accommodate new employee positions or projects, still left the budget with $5.4 million in unallocated spending.

“This money can be allocated to meet a variety of different needs,” said Baird, though he noted that much of the increased funding is from large, short-term grants that will not be available in future years. “We don’t want to inflate the budget to the point where we’re adding annual recurring expenses,” he warned, but suggested that the extra money might go toward one-time projects like contributions to water studies or affordable housing partnerships.