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Giving out pieces of the pie

Donna Gray

As winter wraps its arms around the high country, and family plans are made for the holidays, another tradition is taking place downtown. In Courthouse Plaza the Garfield County Commissioners are busy cutting up a pie to feed a hungry family of government departments in 2005.This week elected officials from the sheriff to the coroner pitched their budgets to the commissioners. In 2005, the county’s budget will be worth about $53.6 million. The largest capital item is a new $2.6 million human services building at the north end of the county fairgrounds in Rifle.The largest slice of the pie, $7.5 million or 33 percent of the general budget, will go to the sheriff’s office. With that money, Sheriff Lou Vallario will pay over $500,000 in wages and fund patrol and jail deputies, animal control, emergency management, fire suppression, search and rescue and the Victims Advocate program that aids victims of crime.Employees of the county are set to receive a 4 percent raise in salary across the board.Among the elected officials coming before the commissioners at their budget hearings Tuesday and Wednesday was outgoing 9th Judicial District Attorney Mac Myers. Myers reached his term limit this year, and Colleen Truden will be the new district attorney in January. Myers, who makes $80,000 a year, advised the commissioners that his successor must have a starting salary of $67,000, as mandated by the state. Garfield County pays 68 percent of that salary, with smaller contributions from Pitkin and Rio Blanco counties in the 9th Judicial District.The commissioners will set Truden’s salary sometime before she is sworn in on Jan. 1.Also appearing before the commissioners was county library director Jaci Spuhler. Her budget got a healthy boost this year from increased revenues from a one-quarter cent county sales tax, giving her $1.8 million. Last year she received $1.69 million.”I’m very pleased with the projection. I didn’t anticipate it,” Spuhler said. She said Rifle’s library has the largest growth in the county in demand for services. She’s requested an additional full time position and said the library board is considering expansion of that library by purchasing a vacant lot adjacent to the building.But Commissioner John Martin nixed the idea, saying, “It will be some time (before that can be done) … It’s better to utilize the space we have and keep it up.”While funding for the library system has improved since the county allocated all of the one-quarter cent sales tax to the libraries a few years ago instead of splitting it with the road and bridge department, the system is still short-staffed. The increased revenue could pay for added staff so the libraries could be open six days a week, Spuhler said. But then there would be no money left over for maintenance.Of primary importance for Sheriff Lou Vallario, whose 2005 budget is $7.5 million, is construction of a new animal shelter in Rifle. “After meeting with Rifle, I think the facility could happen in ’05,” Vallario said. He also noted that the city of Rifle was given a private donation for an animal shelter and has some land it’s willing to donate. “Clearly, we’re not looking at footing the whole bill,” he said. There’ll be a public meeting between Vallario and the city of Rifle about the new animal shelter on Tuesday, Nov. 23, beginning at 8 a.m.Department heads will continue to tweak the budget until commissioners adopt the final product Dec. 20.Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 510dgray@postindependent.com


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