Garfield County sheriff’s budget emerges as an issue in primary election |

Garfield County sheriff’s budget emerges as an issue in primary election

A Republican primary election challenge has forced two-term incumbent Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario to defend his department’s annual budget.

“I believe spending is out of control not only on the national level, but locally with our own sheriff’s department,” says challenger Doug Winters, who squares off against Vallario in the Aug. 10 primary to determine who the Republican candidate for sheriff will be in the November general election.

“I will look at spending in the organization and see where we can do some things differently,” Winters told the Post Independent recently.

The Rifle resident and 13-year deputy/detective with the neighboring Eagle County Sheriff’s Office questioned Vallario during a recent joint interview on radio station KMTS about a $5 million jump in the sheriff’s department budget from 2008 to 2010.

“Given our current economic situation, and the new valuation season that will base property taxes on 2010 values, the [revenue] numbers are expected to decline,” Winters said. “That’s going to hit in 2012. I’d rather not wait until that happens, but start planning now for when we start feeling that pinch.”

Vallario said part of the increase in recent years had to do with a change in the way contingency funds were accounted for in the budget.

“That’s about $2 million that was always there, it just wasn’t reflected in the sheriff’s department budget,” he said.

Some of the increase does relate to expenses associated with the new sheriff’s annex in Rifle, Vallario said. And it’s an expense he defends as necessary to meet the growing needs of the county.

“We have looked at what our needs our, and have decided to put infrastructure in place now rather than having to play catch up,” he said. “In my organization we want that infrastructure to be in place, because the county will grow again.”

The long-range planning has also involved the county commissioners, who ultimately control the purse strings of the sheriff’s department, Vallario pointed out.

“My budget is approved by the county commissioners; I don’t print money in the basement of the jail,” he told the Post Independent in an earlier interview. “Unless the community wants us to terminate programs such as animal control, the school resource officer program, the numerous programs we teach in the schools and the community, registered sex offender awareness, 24-hour patrols …

“I think the community is fine with my budget,” Vallario said.

He also pointed out that he returned $2 million of the 2009 sheriff’s budget to the county due to fiscal concerns associated with the economy.

Winters counters that he sees additional ways to cut spending, such as in staffing ratios between supervisors and patrol deputies, as well as merit pay increases.

“From an organizational standpoint I do have concerns with how services are being provided to the county,” he said. “One of my stances is to get back to the basics of law enforcement, and be more community oriented. That’s a big complaint I hear from a lot of people, and is one of the things we need to change.”

Registered Garfield County Republicans are already casting mail ballots in the primary election, and will continue to do so until Aug. 10 when the ballots will be counted. The winner of the primary will face Democrat Tom Dalessandri, a former two-term sheriff in Garfield County, in the Nov. 2 general election.

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