Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Steamboat Springs Nine county commissioners from three counties eyeballed the preliminary budget of 14th Judicial District Attorney Elizabeth Oldham on Monday and signaled their tentative accord to a 2011 spending plan that holds the line on personnel expenses.
The personnel budget for the three offices of the criminal prosecutor for Grand, Routt and Moffat counties is expected to be about $1,468,180 next year, up from $1,445,890 in 2010. The DA’s operating budget, expected to be in the neighborhood of $180,000, is still a moving target.
The personnel increase can be attributed to a state-mandated raise for Oldham and an increase in health insurance premiums.
Asked by Moffat County Commissioner Audrey Danner whether her office could deliver required services within the tentative budget figures, Oldham replied in the affirmative.
“Yes. Our office really pulled together last year,” Oldham said. “We had an attorney with serious illness and another left to become county attorney, but we did it last year, and we can do it again. We can manage.”
Oldham said one prospect that concerns her is that the public defender’s office has more advocates for defendants with modest incomes going into the new budget year.
“I’m a little concerned because the public defender added (an attorney) and that could cause us more work,” she said.
Oldham, whose pay was increased $10,000 in 2010 per state statutes, will see a similar raise in 2011. The state pays a little less than half of her salary.
All but one of the nine deputy district attorneys in the district won’t see pay increases in 2011. Their salaries range from $52,000 to $63,000. The exception is a recent hire.
Even in times of strong economic growth, funding a DA’s office shared by three counties with different fiscal circumstances and varying approaches to fiscal conservatism can be complex.
Routt, Moffat and Grand share the personnel budget with pro-rated shares dictated by their population, with Routt covering 45 percent, Moffat covering 28 percent and Grand covering 27 percent.
The three counties make their own determinations on how much of the operations budget they agree to share, and all three are taking a different approach to trimming their budgets this year.
Moffat County imposed 3 percent cuts on actual 2009 expenditures in its 2010 budget and will try to absorb a 5.5 percent increase in health insurance premiums in 2011.
“We absorb the insurance premiums and hold salaries flat,” Moffat County Commissioner Tom Gray said. He added that he and his colleagues try to look at each departmental budget rather than imposing across-the-board cuts.
Seventy-five percent of Moffat County’s assessed valuation is attributable to commercial property. Also, Moffat did not see the run-up in residential property values that Routt County saw during the last assessment period, which ended in late spring 2008.
Routt County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush reminded her regional counterparts that Routt imposed a 5 percent salary cut in 2009 and won’t restore those salary levels this year. Routt County anticipates a 35 percent decline in property valuation for the 2012 budget, Finance Director Dan Strnad said, but thinks it cleared enough reserves under the mill levy cap to survive the hit its valuation will take in the 2012 budget by foregoing property tax mills in better times.
Grand County is anticipating a 22 percent decline in its assessed valuation next year, is telling all of its department leaders to cut 10 percent from their 2010 operating budgets this year and asking for similar cuts again in 2011. Commissioner James Newberry said the savings would be added to reserves.
“We haven’t laid anybody off, and we aren’t cutting services,” Newberry said.
If Oldham can make the case that Grand County’s share of her operations budget shouldn’t be trimmed a proportional amount, the commissioners will listen with an open mind, Newberry said.