Jail improvements mean tighter spending | VailDaily.com

Jail improvements mean tighter spending

Melanie Wong
Daily Staff Writer

EAGLE COUNTY ” A bigger county jail means a smaller budget for next year, county officials said.

Over the next few weeks, officials will be discussing the 2008 budget, trying to balance the needs of a growing county with plans to expand the county justice center.

“This is an extremely tight year,” County Finance Director John Lewis said.

The county will be looking for money to fund $20 million in justice center improvements. After a survey showed that taxpayers would not vote for a tax increase to fund the work, the county has been looking at other ways to fund a bigger jail, more office space for the Sheriff’s and District Attorneys’ offices and more courtrooms.

Some of that money will come from keeping the county mill levy, or property tax rates, the same. Because home values have gone up, keeping the mill levy the same would bring in about $3.5 million more in property taxes than last year, Lewis said.

Many county departments will be taking budget cuts, and the county spending will be down overall. The county’s general fund, which is used for usual county operations, will be cut by $2.5 million. The commissioner’s budget, which is used for community project grants and commissioners’ business expenses, will be cut almost 50 percent.

“We’re trying to set the example. We’re cutting back our own projects, too,” County Commissioner Arn Menconi said.

Some federal and state grants that normally come to the county will be cut next year, Lewis said.

Also, the county received $8.7 million in building permit fees last year, but those numbers are expected to decrease next year by $2 million to $3 million.

“There just isn’t as much building going on as there used to be,” he said.

That means many of the projects the county hoped to do, such as buying new GPS units for county surveyors, and making repairs at the Sheriff’s Office and shooting range, might not make the cut.

There were $31.9 million worth of big-ticket project or purchase requests, but only $4.9 million is available for all the projects, Lewis said.

At the top of the priority list, besides the justice center expansion, is purchasing $250,000 worth of new election equipment, installing air conditioning for the Miller Ranch Child Care Center and remodeling some county buildings.

It will be tough, because the county is growing, Lewis said.

For example, almost 40 new employees were requested, which makes sense for the rate that Eagle County has been growing, he said.

There were requests from the Sheriff’s office, Health and Human Services, Social Services and the Road and Bridge Department. But the county can only afford to add less than 10 employees, Lewis said.

The final budget will be approved by the commissioners the first week of December.

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

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