Budget frustrations grow | SteamboatToday.com

Budget frustrations grow

Commissioners unsatisfied with Wall's expenditure explanations

Brandon Gee

Sheriff Gary Wall and the Routt County Board of Commissioners flexed their constitutional authority Tuesday as a budget dispute between the county’s top law enforcement officer and administrators raged on.

Wall’s argument that he has a responsibility to provide adequate law enforcement, regardless of the cost, again collided with the commissioners’ ultimate authority concerning county expenditures. The Sheriff’s Office is projected to exceed its $4.3 million 2008 budget by about $100,000, according to projections prepared by the Sheriff’s Office.

At the end of Tuesday’s hearing, Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said the commissioners soon will decide how much of a supplemental budget appropriation, if any, to approve for the Sheriff’s Office. Should Wall exceed the approved appropriation, Stahoviak said, he will be in violation of state law.

“We are the body that is responsible for appropriating the expenditures of this county,” Stahoviak said. “We have to pick a number and tell them to live with it. : If you go over : that is in violation of state statute. And I can’t emphasize that enough.”

The projected overage is based on expenditures through September. A projection last month, based on expenditures through August, showed the Sheriff’s Office on track to overshoot its budget by about $300,000. Commissioners said they thought the new, reduced projection is misleading because it does not include salaries for the five unfilled Sheriff’s Office positions. In a letter to the commissioners dated Oct. 17, Wall wrote that he intends to fill those positions.

“If that’s your intent, those salaries should be included in that projection,” Stahoviak said.

Recommended Stories For You

Whether the county would even approve any new employees hired by the Sheriff’s Office is unclear. In a letter dated Sept. 23, the commissioners wrote they were placing the department under a hiring freeze until they received answers to a number of questions and requests related to Wall’s budget management procedures.

One of the five unfilled positions is for a receptionist.

“We desperately need a girl up front,” said Undersheriff David Bustos, who said other Sheriff’s Office employees are forced to leave their work to cover reception duties. “With all due respect, it just drives them crazy.”

The other four positions are for patrol deputies.

“I need to hire someone,” Wall said. “We don’t have 24-hour coverage.”

Round-the-clock law enforcement coverage was a goal of Wall’s that was accomplished when the commissioners reluctantly approved Wall’s 2008 budget request for additional officers. Before that request, there were no deputies who worked from 3 to 7 a.m., although there were deputies on call.

“We don’t agree with that anyway,” Commissioner Doug Monger said in response to Wall.

“Commissioner Monger, I got elected to make that decision,” Wall replied.

“Well, we got elected to fund your budget,” Monger said.

In a year when county revenues are projected to be $1.9 million off, Monger said he was especially upset because the county is considering tough budget cuts throughout the county and even layoffs.

“That really irks the hell out of me,” Monger said. “His department seems to think it’s impervious to the financial woes of the rest of the country.”

Monger also was upset because Wall wrote in his Oct. 17 letter “these numbers could go up or down in the next two and a half months.” Monger said he wanted more assurances that the department would stay within the projections presented Tuesday.

“What happens out in the county controls that,” Wall said. “If you’re asking for a solid number : I can’t give you that. These are the best projections that we can have.

“I am not going to be negligent in the performance of my position,” Wall continued. “I’m not going to tell someone that we can’t help them because we can’t afford it. I can never do that.”

The comment prompted another heated exchange between Monger and Wall.

“You use that trump card every time,” Monger said. “It’s getting old.”

“It’s a valid trump card,” Wall replied.

The two also disagreed on the number of deputies – three – stationed at the Routt County Justice Center.

“We’ve turned this into Camp Hale,” said Monger, who noted the commissioners approved only two deputies for the Justice Center. “I think we’re so over security in the Justice Center, it’s disgusting.”

Wall noted an independent assessment that recommended four deputies at the Justice Center.

“We’re providing what we believe and they believe is adequate security over there,” Wall said. “We tried to do it with two, and we couldn’t do it.”

Monger also jumped on the fact that Wall still plans to hold a tactical training exercise at Yampa Valley Regional Airport later this summer at a cost of $1,920.

“It’s not like you’re making any effort to cut costs,” Monger said.

After the meeting, an exasperated Wall said he felt like “a broken record.” He continued to say the nature of law enforcement makes his expenditures impossible to predict, that he inherited unsophisticated budget practices from the past administration, and that he has taken steps to professionalize the office. Wall also said he feels unrealistic budgeting set him up for failure.

Routt County’s 2008 adopted budget allocated $20,000 for overtime in the Routt County Jail and $31,030 for patrol overtime, despite the fact that the actual expenditures in these categories were about $100,000 in 2006 and 2007.

“If there were reasonable numbers in there, we would be so close to the budget,” Wall said. “Do they want me to fail politically so they can say I mismanaged?”

The commissioners pointed out that overages were not specific to overtime, and focused specifically on a $70,000 overage in the sheriff’s operations budget. Wall has provided information to explain many of the overages, but commissioners said he did not provide enough or explain how he would change practices in the future to ensure better budget compliance.

By the numbers

Routt County Sheriff’s Office personnel expenditures (in millions)

Detention Center Patrol

Budgeted Actual Budgeted Actual

2003 $1.23 $1.21 $1.38 $1.68

2004 $1.24 $1.18 $1.44 $1.45

2005 $1.32 $1.32 $1.48 $1.45

2006 $1.45 $1.46 $1.56 $1.55

2007 $1.63 $1.64 $1.65 $1.62

2003-07* $1.38 $1.36 $1.50 $1.55

2008** $1.75 $1.84 $1.83 $1.77