County tightens Wall’s belt | SteamboatToday.com

County tightens Wall’s belt

Commissioners limit Sheriff's Office overtime, vehicle use

Melinda Dudley

County commissioners unanimously voted Tuesday to cut back Routt County Sheriff’s Office overtime and county vehicle use for the rest of 2008, in what Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak called a “last-ditch effort” to get the department’s budget in line.

Effective Nov. 23, overtime may not be paid to any Sheriff’s Office employee, except on-call investigators, and the Sheriff’s Office is limited to 16,000 miles in its use of county vehicles between today and the end of the year, according to the resolution approved by the commissioners.

Stahoviak said the steps proved necessary after it became clear the Sheriff’s Office still would exceed its 2008 budget, despite an $80,000 supplemental allocation approved for the department only two weeks ago.

After the Nov. 7 accounts payable and Nov. 15 payroll were processed, county finance staff informed the county commissioners that if expenditures continue at their current rate, the Sheriff’s Office and the Routt County Jail still will be over budget at the end of the year for operations and personnel.

Sheriff Gary Wall called the restrictions unrealistic, saying the department’s overtime expenditures and mileage aren’t “optional.” The Sheriff’s Office projected about 25,000 in mileage for the remainder of 2008.

“We haven’t done unnecessary driving,” Wall said. “We’re all over the county for law enforcement presence – that’s what the people want.”

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In a Monday letter to the commissioners, Wall wrote he will do his best to adhere to the overtime and mileage restrictions but made it clear he will not do so if it would jeopardize the safety of any member of his staff or the public.

“We are not going to be intimidated into not performing the duties we were sworn to do,” Wall said Tuesday.

Although Wall said he is unable to commit to any specific budget numbers for the rest of the year, the sheriff’s latest estimate is that the department as a whole will exceed its 2008 appropriation by about $11,000. Stahoviak said the county is conservatively projecting a total overage of about $46,000.

Financial projections vary among segments of the Sheriff’s Office.

“Even with this action we are taking today, the detention personnel budget will still exceed the amount budgeted by about $68,000,” Stahoviak said.

County officials depicted Tuesday’s resolution as their last resort, citing Wall’s failures to provide requested information about Sheriff’s Office expenditures and to submit supplemental budget requests where warranted.

“We have not cornered the sheriff into this situation,” Stahoviak said. “We have been attempting over the last several months to get this conversation with the sheriff going, and it has not happened.”

Wall said the Sheriff’s Office has shared any and all financial information with the county, but he said that the commissioners are not entitled to general operations information, such as scheduling details.

“That’s prerogative of the sheriff,” Wall said. “This is not an office that gets to be run by the county commissioners.”

The restrictions are a result of Routt County’s “dire budgetary straits,” Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush said.

According to the proposed 2009 budget, county revenue streams are predicted to decrease by 18 percent – nearly $11 million. Routt County is poised to dip $2.9 million into its reserves to maintain current levels of service next year.

“We do not have a penny,” Mitsch Bush said.

Uncertain future

On Nov. 5, the county commissioners added an $80,000 supplemental budget to the $4.3 million originally allocated to the Routt County Sheriff’s Office for 2008. The overages that supplemental budget covers include overtime for prisoner transports and inmate supervision, and unanticipated sick leave and vacation time payouts for departing employees, Mitsch Bush said Tuesday.

In an Oct. 30 letter to Wall, the commissioners warned that they may take drastic steps, including prohibiting overtime and restricting the use of county vehicles, should his office exceed its supplemental appropriation. The commissioners already instituted a hiring freeze for the Sheriff’s Office in September.

Mitsch Bush noted Tuesday that the commissioners still reserve the right to take other actions they find necessary.

Sheriff’s Office staff will be working on a supplemental budget request to present to the county, but Wall noted that the same difficulties in predicting expenditures that have hampered previous talks with county officials still will apply.

“We don’t know what we’re going to spend in the next six weeks, because those six weeks haven’t happened yet,” Wall said.

– To reach Melinda Dudley, call 871-4203

or e-mail mdudley@steamboatpilot.com