Garfield County sheriff seeks $18 million for 2010 budget |

Garfield County sheriff seeks $18 million for 2010 budget

John Colson
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario has requested more than $18 million to run his department of 151 employees next year, the single biggest departmental slice of the county’s proposed 2010 budget.

The proposed operating budget for the sheriff’s department is $3.6 million more than the sheriff is projected to spend through the end of 2009, which is estimated at $14,634,845, according to budget documents prepared by the county’s finance department.

The difference, $3,639,710, represents an increase of approximately 24 percent overall.

That is above the 2 percent increase in operating expenses and in salaries that was imposed by the Board of County Commissioners for 2010, although Vallario said in an interview that his initial budget request for next year actually was lower than his projected 2009 expenditures.

Finance director Lisa Dawson, who submitted the proposed budget to the commissioners earlier in October, emphasized that the figures are preliminary and undergoing ongoing review by county officials.

Both Dawson and budget analyst Theresa Wagenman have explained that there are a number of variables that go into the determination of budget numbers, such as an 8.5 percent increase in employee health-insurance premiums; a 2 percent increase across the board in departmental operations; and a 2 percent countywide hike in salaries, which may or may not survive a review by commissioners in January 2010.

But the biggest variable, said Wagenman and Dawson, is the use of new accounting procedures in keeping track of hiring, salaries and benefits.

This year, for the first time in recent years, the budget reflects all the money allocated to salaries and benefits for all positions in all departments, as authorized by the county commissioners.

For several years, explained Dawson, the county has been gathering the salaries of all unfilled positions into a “contingency fund” that the commissioners controlled.

If a position were filled at some point during a given year, Dawson explained, the salary would be released from the contingency fund and inserted into the appropriate department’s budget.

In 2008 and 2009, according to a report by Wagenman, the contingency fund accounted for more than $5 million each year.

The reason for the contingency-fund method, explained County Manager Ed Green, was that about six years ago a department head decided to redirect money intended for new positions in his department.

Instead of filling vacancies, Green said, the official, whom Green did not identify, handed out the money as raises for his existing employees, which prompted the commissioners to alter the way salaries and hiring were handled.

Under Dawson, who is overseeing her first annual budget process for Garfield County, the county has reverted to what Dawson described as a more easily managed system of keeping track of positions and pay, which she said makes for greater transparency and accountability.

“With a department as large as the sheriff’s and with as many vacancies that they had at the time of the ’09 budget preparation, this simple change makes a big difference and accounts for most of the increase in expenditures between years,” wrote Wagenman in an e-mail to the Post Independent.

Within the sheriff’s proposed budget, the jail is the largest of the “sub-department” categories.

Sheriff Vallario proposes to spend $7,637,468 to operate the jail in 2010, compared to $6,373,415 in projected expenses for 2009.

The proposed jail budget includes a request for 5,637,718 in wages, benefits and taxes. If approved, that would be $821,203 more than the projected salary-benefits amount for 2009, for an increase of 17 percent.

Besides employee pay, the biggest part of the budget is $375,000 requested for “food – non travel related.” Similar amounts were requested in 2008 and 2009, according to the budget documents.

The budget also reflects a request for an 8 percent increase in the “patrol” department, which currently is budgeted for $3,707,903 in expenses for 2010, compared to the projected 2009 expenses of $3,427,408 for the same department.

The two-person animal-control budget calls for $158,725 in wages and benefits, compared to an estimated $120,600 spent last year. The largest item in the animal control budget is a request for $520,000 for “client boarding.”

In the Emergency Management department, which has been reduced to Emergency Manager Chris Bornholdt, the budget of $607,097 includes a request for a “contingency” fund of $500,000 for unforeseen local catastrophes. A similar fund has been requested in years past, although the budget history indicates that only $60,000 or so was spent each year in 2009 and 2008.

“If we don’t use it, it just rolls into next year,” said Vallario.

The sheriff’s budget requests, along with other parts of the county’s 2010 budget proposal, will be discussed in upcoming meetings prior to the final adoption of the budget in December.

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