Sheriff’s Office will be on tighter funds
Vail CO, Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY, COLORADO ” The Sheriff’s Office needs to cut overtime and training to make room in the county’s budget for in improvements to the Eagle County Justice Center, Eagle County officials said.
Tightening the budget is a difficult thing to do with a rapidly growing community, said Sheriff Joe Hoy.
The Sheriff’s Office was asked to cut planned overtime and training for 2008 by 75 percent and try to squeeze more miles out of their vehicles before buying new ones. The department is going to see if and how that can be done before the final round of budget talks, Hoy said.
“This is definitely going to be hard on us and the citizens,” Hoy said. “Training is the backbone of everything we do. It keeps us safe, the community safe, and it prevents lawsuits.”
Eagle resident Myron Alt said he can see why a growing community would need more money to run its law enforcement.
He would like to see more of the county’s money going toward the Sheriff’s Office, he said.
“Spending on infrastructure for protection is different than catering to some special interest. They could be spending money on worse things,” he said.
The county commissioners and finance officials say the Sheriff’s Office is just one of many departments being asked to make cuts in 2008 as the county looks to trim its budget. The goal is to operate at 94 percent of last year’s funds, said Finance Director John Lewis.
The county is scrutinizing its expenses carefully because not only will $1.25 million go toward Justice Center improvements next year, but the county hopes to set aside $5 million to purchase homes and land for affordable housing, County Commissioner Arn Menconi said.
Also, employees will be getting raises to compensate for cost-of-living, he said.
The Sheriff’s Department was asked to cut more than $350,000 from their operations budget, which includes salaries and training, and about $170,000 from their budget for inmate care.
Right now some training is done on overtime, so the department is going to see if some of the training sessions can be combined or done on regular duty, Hoy said.
Overtime is difficult to cut because often officers will take a call at the end of their shift or may have to appear in court on an off-day, he said.
“You’re never going to get rid of overtime in law enforcement. There are some things you have no control over,” Hoy said. “Honestly, I think a lot of the overtime is because we are short-staffed.”
The commissioners definitely understand those concerns, Menconi said.
“We are definitely supporting the Sheriff’s Office like we have in past years,” he said. “But they’ve agreed to go back and maybe look at their budget in a different light.”
The sheriff also had wanted more vehicles, but county commissioners questioned whether the existing vehicles were being efficiently used.
But Hoy said the department barely has enough vehicles to get by.
“As long as nothing goes wrong, we’re OK,” Hoy said. “But if there’s a big emergency like a big evacuation or a fire, we’ll be hard pressed to get all the officers into marked cars.”
Despite the operation cuts, county officials say they will definitely spend $20 million over the next 20 years to make what the Sheriff’s Office says are sorely needed expansions and improvements to the Eagle County Justice Center in Eagle.
The county will be spending about $2 million a year on the improvements for a larger jail, which is currently overflowing, more office space for the Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney’s office, and more courtroom space.
The first task will be expanding the jail. Room for 32 new beds for longer-term inmates will be added, Hoy said.
The proposed budget will be discussed by the county commissioners and open for public input on Tuesday, Dec. 11.
Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.