Budget resolution near | SteamboatToday.com

Budget resolution near

Sheriff's Office predicts downward trend in costs until year's end

Brandon Gee

Routt County Sheriff Gary Wall sits next to Sgt. Miles DeYoung while attending a Tuesday budget hearing with the Routt County Board of Commissioners.

— A resolution to the budget wrangling between Sheriff Gary Wall and the Routt County Board of Commissioners appears close.

In a hearing Tuesday, Routt County Sheriff’s Office officials said they expect 2008 expenditures to be closer to what was allocated in the county budget than a $300,000 overage projected last month. And both sides said they hope to take steps to improve the Sheriff’s Office budget in 2009 and beyond.

The $300,000 overage was based on expenses through August. Undersheriff David Bustos said costs have trended downward since that time and that the projected overage now is closer to $200,000. The department’s total 2008 budget is $4.3 million.

“The trend is going down,” Bustos said. “Based on what I know about what we have to do for the remainder of the year, I sincerely believe the trend is going to continue to go down.”

In his comments, Wall blamed the most significant overages – in overtime paid to jailers and patrol deputies – on unrealistic budgeting. Routt County’s 2008 adopted budget allocated $20,000 for overtime in the Routt County Jail and $31,030 for patrol overtime, despite the fact that the actual expenditures in these categories were about $100,000 in 2006 and 2007.

“If a real number had been put in the budget for overtime, we would be fine,” Wall said. “What we have spent was necessary, and none of it was unwarranted.”

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Two weeks ago, Routt County Finance Director Dan Strnad said overtime expenditures in excess of the budget are typical and that they usually are compensated for by turnover in the Sheriff’s Office and approved salaries that aren’t being paid. Wall said that after a transition period when he took office in 2007, he has been more successful at retaining employees.

“That’s why there isn’t the savings in the salaries,” Wall said.

Commissioner Doug Monger took issue with that justification. He said that if the Sheriff’s Office has more staff, then overtime should be decreasing.

“Two and two doesn’t equal five,” Monger said. “The bottom line is you’re putting more hours out there. : Are we talking about extra patrol because of things, or because of mismanagement? That’s what we’re trying to get at.”

Wall has blamed some of his overages on unexpected circumstances such as court-ordered, round-the-clock supervision of convicted murderer Luz Cisneros earlier this year.

Of $119,399 spent on overtime in the Routt County Jail through August, $21,537 was attributed to Cisneros. Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush said while some expenditures were indeed unpredictable, others – such as Wall’s decision to have every deputy SWAT certified – were policy decisions. She said in addition to reconciling the Sheriff’s Office 2008 budget, steps need to be taken to avoid a similar situation in future years.

“Right now, we’re heading for the same train wreck in 2009,” Monger said.

Wall and Bustos said they already have made changes. Wall said he hopes to add line items to his budget to more accurately and specifically track costs, and Bustos said he will require all overtime to be approved by him or a department head before it is worked.

“I think it’s been a good thing for all of us because we’re now going to be able to give you better numbers than we have in the past,” Bustos said.

No official decisions were made at Tuesday’s hearing. Wall was asked to return next week with revised financial projections for his office.

By the numbers

Jail: $30,822 (2004); $94,353 (2005); $104,652 (2006); $136,000 (2007 projected); $20,000 (2008 budgeted)

Patrol: $39,484 (2004); $99,180 (2005); $92,926 (2006); $108,930 (2007 projected); $31,030 (2008 budgeted)

Source: Routt County 2008 adopted budget, Routt County Sheriff’s Office

By the numbers

2008 Routt County Sheriff’s Office overtime expenditures through August

Patrol $110,836

Jail $119,399

Source: Routt County Sheriff’s Office