Expenses come with county reform | VailDaily.com

Expenses come with county reform

VAIL ” The county says it will cost $386,000 a year to institute the new form of government, but opponents say costs could escalate even higher than what’s predicted.

“You know as well as I do that estimates are worth the powder used to blow them up,” said Dick Gustafson, a former county commissioner who opposes home rule.

Home rule, which will go before voters this November, would change the number of commissioners from three to five and remove party affiliation from county races, among other changes.

County Finance Director Mike Roeper said he calculated the cost to be $386,000 per year. That equals about 0.38 percent of the county’s yearly budget. Home rule supporters also say there will be an extra $100,000 needed to renovate offices.

The extra cost will bring better representation and even bring more scrutiny to spending, said Don Cohen, chairman of the Home Rule Charter Commission, the group that wrote the proposed charter.

“That’s very reasonable offset,” Cohen said.

Cohen said the charter commission considered splitting up three commissioners’ pay between five people, but wanted to ensure that quality candidates were attracted to the position.

He also said the commission considered tacking on a cost-of-living bonus. But in the end, the group decided to stick with the salary set by the state in order to “depoliticize” the issue, he said.

The price tag includes the salaries and benefits for two new county commissioners. That price comes to about $224,000 a year, Roeper said.

Salaries of county commissioners are set by the state Legislature. Under legislation passed earlier this year, newly elected commissioners will be paid $72,500 a year, up from $51,827. That will happen whether home rule is adopted or not. Adding benefits, incoming commissioners’ salaries will be worth about $112,000 a year, Roeper said.

Commissioners also get a car allowance, which would be about $57,000 for the two commissioners. Also, add two laptops and software, and add costs to travel around the country for conferences. Roeper also added the cost of a secretary at $74,000 a year.

Roeper said those costs, including the salaries, come to $386,000 a year for the new government.

Cohen said there may be some one-time costs to renovate county offices to add more offices. A reconfiguration of offices might cost around $100,000, Cohen said.

Gustafson said special interests and personal agendas will tack on even more in costs.

“You can project salaries, benefits, cars but you can’t project what these people will do when they get into control,” he said.

The more people on the commission, the more personal agendas to deal with, Gustafson said.

“I think the sky’s the limit as to what the expenses might be,” he said.

He acknowledged that 0.25 percent of the budget seems like an insignificant amount. But if you keep adding expenses little by little, services will have to be cut, he said.

“It is a small amount, but every time you put a cup of water in a bucket, it starts to fill it up,” he said.

Heather Lemon, a member of the Home Rule Charter Commission, said the costs are justified. A larger board of commissioners will be able to find better solutions to area problems, such as forest and water issues, she said.

More commissioners also would help better allocate growing revenues, she said.

“Someone has to manage it all,” she said.

And Cohen said more eyes on the budget might promote fiscal responsibility and prevent unnecessary “leakage” projects from going through.

“There’s leakage out of the county budget that is greater than this number we’re talking about,” Cohen said.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or estoner@vaildaily.com.

Vail, Colorado

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