Steamboat Springs The Routt County Board of Commissioners reacted impassively Monday to a letter from Steamboat Springs attorney Mark Fischer on behalf of Sheriff Gary Wall questioning its authority to unilaterally reduce the salaries of the sheriff's employees.
"What are we supposed to do with this?" commission Chairman Doug Monger asked County Attorney John Merrill. "They aren't threatening to sue us."
Wall said last week that his challenge to the commissioners' legal authority to cut his employees' pay is out of a sense of obligation to the office of sheriff and to his staff.
In a letter dated April 9 and received by the commissioners Monday morning, Fischer cited case law that he said supports the argument that although the commissioners have the right to revise the adopted budget when revenues fall short of projections, they cannot unilaterally reduce the salaries of employees of elected officials without mutual agreement.
"At first review, there seems to be no legal authority for the BCC to unilaterally reduce the salaries of the Sheriff's Office personnel based upon the cases and statutes cited," Fischer's letter concludes.
Merrill said he welcomed the letter because he felt that it - for the first time in an ongoing exchange of letters about legal issues pertaining to the sheriff's authority - acknowledges the right of the county commissioners to revise their budget in midstream.
However, Merrill said the case law Fischer cited to support his claim that the commissioners can't unilaterally adjust the employees of sheriff's employees is archaic.
"They're old," Merrill said. "In the last 25 years the courts have realized that the county commissioners must be able to control the budget."
The letter encourages the commissioners to respond to Fischer's arguments.
"I am mindful that there might be other statutes impacting the authority of the BCC in the area of salaries that may affect the statutory and case law cited by myself in this letter," Fischer wrote. "If I am mistaken as to any matter of fact or law, this is an invitation for you to present legal authority along those lines."
Merrill told the commissioners he would take some time to further consider the letter before responding formally.
But his initial reaction was that its content had not changed his opinion about the commissioners' ability to adjust salaries.
The commissioners voted two weeks ago to cut the salaries of all county employees - except county elected officials - by 10 percent, effective immediately.
"There's nothing in the letter that we haven't already considered," Merrill said. "The bottom line is, nothing in the letter has changed my mind. I think you have the authority to make budget cuts mid-year."
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