Eagle Co. OKs tax hike, jail spending | VailDaily.com

Eagle Co. OKs tax hike, jail spending

Melanie Wong
Vail, CO Colorado

EEAGLE COUNTY ” The Eagle County Commissioners approved the 2008 budget on Tuesday, with $103.1 million in spending and money set aside for projects such as affordable housing and improvements to the Justice Center.

The budget included five new positions and a couple intern slots, including a new school resource officer for the Sheriff’s Office, a supervisor for early childhood programs and a new appraiser for the Assessor’s Office.

The commissioners also approved raising property taxes by keeping the county mill levy at its current rate of 8.499. Due to an increased in assessed property values, that will bring in an additional $4 million in property taxes. The county also expects increased revenue from sales taxes, which have gone up 9 percent since 2006.

The money will help pay for deficits from previous years as well as pay for expansion of the county jail, which will cost a total of $20 million over the next 20 years.

The first $1.3-million phase will be to add space for 32 more prisoners. Right now the county is paying to house overflow inmates in other county’s jails.

Construction should start in late summer or early fall, said County Manager Bruce Baumgartner.

Another $5.5 million was set aside for the affordable housing fund. The money will be used to purchase land, buy homes to resell as affordable housing or invest in any other “innovative solutions” that may come up, County Commissioner Arn Menconi said.

“This is the best budget I’ve seen in seven years,” he said. “We’ve set aside $5.5 million to help aggressively bring workforce housing to the community.”

Other major spending for the year include $2.3 million to replace county buses and build a new bus barn in Leadville, $1.4 million for road improvements, and $300,000 to re-landscape the county building grounds in Eagle with more environmentally friendly methods.

The new budget cut about 6 percent of proposed spending from the general fund, which includes wages and operating costs for county departments.

This was the first year the county has gone “line by line” through each department and questioned all requested expenses, said Finance Director John Lewis.

One department that has undergone much scrutiny is the Sheriff’s Office. The budget made major cuts to the Sheriff’s funds for overtime, training and uniforms.

“Frankly, I’m not happy. The figures don’t accurately address the needs of the Sheriff’s Office and the public safety of the community,” said Sheriff Joe Hoy.

But the commissioners said that while they support the Sheriff’s Office, they were not shown that money for those things were being used efficiently.

Officers’ salaries were far above usual averages, and some officers were receiving as much as $15,000 in overtime each year. The commissioners will continue working with the Sheriff’s Office over the next month to reach a compromise, Menconi said.

“There has to be better comparison to the average of others. ‘Because this is the way its been for 20 years’ is no longer acceptable,” Menconi said.

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or mwong@vaildaily.com.

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