Routt County Sheriff Gary Wall listens to Sgt. Mike Baumann talk during a tour of the Routt County Jail on Wednesday. The Routt County Board of Commissioners is threatening to cut health and retirement benefits of Sheriff's Office employees if Wall doesn't accept countywide pay reductions for his staff.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Routt County Sheriff Gary Wall listens to Sgt. Mike Baumann talk during a tour of the Routt County Jail on Wednesday. The Routt County Board of Commissioners is threatening to cut health and retirement benefits of Sheriff's Office employees if Wall doesn't accept countywide pay reductions for his staff.

County presses Wall

Commissioners could slash benefits for departments that don't accept cuts

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Routt County Sheriff Gary Wall walks through the tunnel between the Routt County Justice Center and the jail Wednesday during a tour of the facilities. Wall is in an ongoing battle with County Commissioners concerning budget cuts.

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Detentions deputy Michelle Richardson watches security monitors Tuesday.

— The Routt County Board of Commissioners is threatening to take away the health and retirement benefits of Sheriff's Office employees if Sheriff Gary Wall doesn't accept a 10 percent countywide pay reduction for his department.

Without the participation of the Sheriff's Office - one of Routt County's largest and best-paid departments - county commissioners say they may be forced to make layoffs they hope to avoid as they confront a $4.9 million deficit in their 2009 budget.

Commissioners will consider a resolution next week adopting a furlough plan for county employees that will reduce work hours 10 percent to match the pay cut adopted by Resolution 2009-019 on April 1. A provision of the resolution states that in the event any Routt County elected official refuses to accept the pay cut, "the board reserves the right to exclude the employees working in that elected official's department from employment benefits : including : retirement plan coverage and medical insurance coverage."

Wall already has challenged the pay cuts in a letter from his attorney arguing 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.

While the furlough resolution speaks to any elected official that may refuse the pay cuts, County Manager Tom Sullivan said Wednesday that Wall is the only one opposing them so far.

The draft resolution has only further emboldened Wall, who sent a letter Tuesday in hopes of rallying other Routt County elected officials to his side.

In the letter, Wall asks other elected officials to join him in opposing the 10 percent pay cut. Wall argues that the draft furlough plan resolution "is clearly an attempt to intimidate us into agreeing with Resolution 2009-019, under the threat of our employees being denied their retirement plan coverage and medical insurance coverage for them and their families, if we do not agree to this resolution."

During a meeting with Sullivan on Wednesday to discuss the proposed furlough resolution, some county employees expressed concerns that they could be punished for the actions of elected officials.

"I would just hate to see helpless victims in the middle of a power struggle," dispatcher Erika Rick said.

Sullivan's response to concerns that employees would have no say was to tell the employees that they should talk to their elected department leaders.

"We're looking for that sign-off from the elected officials," Sullivan said. "They are responsible for their departments."

Later Wednesday - in a meeting with the commissioners, Sullivan and Finance Director Dan Strnad to discuss cuts to his operational budget - Wall presented $30,000 in proposed cuts, about 3 percent of his operational budget, and announced he would not entertain attempts to cut his budget further.

"To reduce further would seriously reduce my ability to perform my statutory duty to provide public safety in Routt County," Wall said.

Wall's comments frustrated Commissioner Doug Monger, who said Wall is not trying to be "part of the solution." Monger noted increases in the Sheriff's Office budget, which has grown $1.5 million since 2004 to $4.6 million.

Other departments' operational budgets reviewed Wednesday were cut by more than 10 percent.

"Most people are being realistic," Monger said.

During a tour of the Routt County Jail earlier Wednesday, Wall and other Sheriff's Office employees said they are already woefully understaffed and pointed to several potential liabilities such as inmates who work unsupervised in the kitchen and the fact that there is sometimes only one deputy for every 10 prisoners transported to the Routt County Justice Center for appearances before a judge. Part of the journey involves an elevator ride in a car that does not have a cage to separate deputies from prisoners.

Wall said the jail is a disaster waiting to happen if a fight breaks out or another emergency arises while the jail is understaffed.

The county's hiring freeze and prohibition of overtime already have created a scheduling "nightmare," Sgt. Mike Baumann said, let alone the potential impacts of a furlough program. Baumann said the jail needs at least one person in its control room and two more on the jail floor, at a minimum, to operate safely but has been forced to work with as little as two deputies total in recent weeks. He said an inmate who tried to strangle herself with a pair of socks was found nearly dead recently.

Baumann said the Sheriff's Office could keep a better eye on inmates with adequate manpower.

"We don't know when things are going to happen. Anything at any time can happen," Dep. Rachel Rivas said. "I think there are times when (safety) does become questionable. It's spread too thin."

There was a similar struggle between a sheriff and county commissioners during budget discussions in Summit County last year. Summit County Sheriff John Minor said that while he and Wall differ substantially politically - Minor is a Republican and Wall is a Democrat - he is supportive of Wall's current actions.

"Sheriff Wall and I may disagree on some things," Minor said Monday. "I also think he's doing the right thing challenging their authority. : He must be an advocate for (adequate public safety). That's his job. : I think what he's doing is courageous."

Last year, Minor was asked to eliminate positions as part of budget cuts.

He refused and threatened to hire a lawyer and file an injunction against the Summit County Commissioners, but he said he would work with them on other cuts.

"You need good public safety," Minor said.

"You don't take this shared misery approach."

Minor ultimately worked things out with his commissioners and avoided legal action.

Whether the same will be true in Routt County remains to be seen.

Wall said a decision about whether to move forward with formal legal action against the commissioners is "pending."

- To reach Brandon Gee, call 871-4210 or e-mail bgee@steamboatpilot.com

Comments

chortle220 4 years, 12 months ago

Someone should tell Gary Wall that this is happening all over our town. My salary was cut weeks ago. What a great message this sends to our community.

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tcb 4 years, 12 months ago

Boy, both sides here need to grow up. Can't place the blame squarely on either the BCC or Wall. Colorado Statutes only require a Sheriff to maintain a jail, keep the peace, fight wildfires, and serve civil papers. Ever notice that Denver County does not have a Patrol Division?

I agree with the dispatcher here, though, that the employees county-wide don't need to be caught in the midst of an infantile power struggle. When's the next election? This is ridiculous.

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Scott Wedel 4 years, 12 months ago

It is infantile for the BCC to threaten employee health and retirement benefits. It is infantile for the Sheriff to suggest a 3% budget cut is all that is possible.

If both sides continue this infantile fight then both should be recalled.

From the Summit County case, it appears that the BCC has little control over how the Sheriff spends his budget so they should stop trying to demand furloughs or pay cuts.

BCC should determine the new budget total for the Sheriff's dept. And presumably if the Sheriff (or any elected dept head) overspends their budget then the BCC goes to court and gets a court order forcing the Sheriff to adhere to the budget. And if the Sheriff refuses to follow the court order then the judge can put him in jail until he complies.

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trump_suit 4 years, 12 months ago

LTFO, you have a bad attitude. Change is invitable and you should learn to embrace it. Will things be the same again? I do not know, but the doom and gloom you are predicting is not our future.

Scott, how right you are.

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cybergypsy 4 years, 12 months ago

To tcb: The reason that the Denver SO does not have a patrol division is because it is the "City and County of Denver" which means all of the patrolling is done by the City PD. Routt County obviously extends beyond any existing city limits and thus, a patrol division for the Sheriff's Office is mandatory.

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Suz 4 years, 12 months ago

Well said Scott. The rest of the county has taken their pay cuts because they had no choice. They are also dealing with those same cuts because they, like the many others facing the same problems must face them. I am afraid that this may be a sign of things to come. We live in a nation that believes more is better and that we are all intitled to more whether we work for it or not. We all, including the county will have to learn to live within our means.

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Tubes 4 years, 12 months ago

gotta love the hands on hips photo of sheriff. that's a great one pilot!

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Scott Wedel 4 years, 12 months ago

The other incoherent aspect of this conflict is that the Sheriff sent a letter to the Town of Oak stating that the legal requirement of keeping the peace is satisfied by only responding to violent misdemeanors and felonies.

So on one hand he is saying that the legal requirement is pretty minimal and on the other hand he can't cut more than $30,000 from a $4,600,000 budget that has grown from $3,100,00 just five years ago.

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Suz 4 years, 12 months ago

One has to wonder just where these budget cuts will come from if Sheriff Wall gets his way. Does the rest of the county take another ten percent? Maybe some furloughs and layoffs? It appears that Sheriff Wall intends to throw the rest of the county under the bus just to get what he wants. I have asked myself if he is really doing this to stand behind his guys or is he once again trying to prove he is above the law so to speak?

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Scott Wedel 4 years, 12 months ago

It would be even crazier if Sheriff Wall got his way because he has tried to get the other elected dept heads to refuse to allow their budgets to be cut! He has taken it upon himself to insist that the county runs a huge deficit and depletes their reserves.

And he is going to hurt his employees because I'll bet that next year the BCC give him a budget that even falling revenues won't require cutting. The BCC are not dumb enough to have this fight again next year. If he is going to fight budget cuts when the county is getting far less revenues and is dipping into their reserves then it would be stupid to have this fight again next year. So he won't get a budget based upon a best guess of county revenues, but one based upon worst case revenues. And if revenues are better then the BCC could then increase the budget. So there will probably be layoffs that probably are then rehired just to avoid this sort of fight again. While other depts will not face that since they have soon a willingness to adjust if the revenues do not come in as expected.

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ybul 4 years, 12 months ago

Trump, ah that change, Maybe you can enlighten our sheriff to run his department on a budget that has changed. Might be that he needs to revise his budget downwards yet again and find ways to cut. Maybe he can go door to door and shake everyone down to provide his department with more revenue as the Sheriff of Nottingham did.

Sure feel bad for our grandchildren (maybe their grandchildren's grandchildren as we have 10+ trillion in real debt and countless more in unfunded liabilities) who get to pay off our debts, so that we could have everything now. What happened to saving for a non revenue generating purchase.

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max huppert 4 years, 12 months ago

would be happy if sheriff dept stayed out of oak creek all together,, they are just there to ticket,, and i bet none of that revenue goes to our town..

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jerry carlton 4 years, 12 months ago

I am happy to see that no one called Wall a "great man" as I have seen in other discussions. Let us only hope that the taxpayers of Routt county see that we can not afford Gary Wall at the next election.

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