Steele looks back at his first eight months

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Darryl Steele said he's never been one "to sit in the back and complain without doing something about it."

That's why the current commissioner decided to run for one of the top three positions in Moffat County.

Rounding the corner on his eighth month in office, the independent candidate who won the election in a landslide vote last November, talked Wednesday about his successes in county government and his goals for the future.

Steele was known in his campaign for an ambitious 11-point proposal that called for eliminating some top style government management and decreasing overall spending.

When Steele was sworn in on Jan. 14, he was denied a second 11 times by the board when he called for motions on all of his proposals.

A portion of Steele's campaign was based on eliminating or altering positions of employees in six county departments.

He proposed holding off on hiring an Emergency Services coordinator and eliminating assistant positions in the Natural Resources department and county attorney's office.

Steele also outlined specific duties for the administrative services director, proposed the elimination of the Public Works director and suggested a lower paying assistant position absorb the duties of a Human Resources director.

Work done under Steele's term has seen some shifting and cost savings in county positions.

Director positions in Administration, and at the landfill have been filled by attrition, with savings to the county. The position for the director of Public Works has been absorbed into another department and the position for the director of Human Resources has been changed to a lower-paying assistant position, further cutting the county's personnel costs.

But Steele admits there's still work to be done on some of his goals. Furthermore, some of his predictions for what he initially thought would be best for the county changed after he became elected.

In his campaign, Steele proposed to eliminate a paralegal assistant to the county attorney, saying the position was unjustified because the county jumped from a part-time attorney directly to the two positions. He initially estimated a $45,545 saving for the change.

"I didn't think there was enough work for that office to do that a full-time attorney couldn't do," he said.

An increase in public document requests and the added duties of risk management, or the tending to the legal claims against the county have justified that position, Steele said.

But Steele said he would continue to push for some of his campaign promises.

He believes there may be a less expensive solution for emergency medical services in Moffat County than having an Emergency Medical coordinator.

The position was hired in at $35,000 plus benefits, which costs taxpayers approximately $47,000.

The EMS coordinator position was filled prior to Steele's first day in office and passed by a vote from current county commissioner Les Hampton and former commissioner T. Wright Dickinson. Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos was absent for that meeting.

"I still think there's a considerably cheaper way to do this," Steele said.

He suggested using the help of Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) from Craig, volunteers and the expertise of the Emergency Medical Services council.

Cutting costs still needs to be considered in the Natural Resources Department, Steele said.

Steele initially proposed eliminating the position for Natural Resource specialist at an annual saving of $53,281. He believed the director should be able to take care of the duties of overseeing the fire plan and issues surrounding a road mapping effort.

"My belief is that this department needs to cut costs," Steele said.

The Natural Resource Department was the only department that didn't undergo cuts last year. Most other departments cut back budgets by three percent.

Steele is still sticking with his proposal for re-calculating pay raises. Currently the board offers pay raises according to performance evaluations. However, Steele's three-point proposal is more detailed.

He suggested in the first phase giving employees an across-the-board pay raise increase to cover inflation. In the second phase, he proposed raises based on performance appraisals but the termination of those employees with unacceptable evaluations. This increase would not be accumulative and would last only from evaluation to evaluation.

The third phase would give an increase in pay relative to the amount of years that an employee worked for Moffat County. The increases would start after five years and increase until an employee had worked for the county for 20 years.

Steele said he plans to propose this process again for the 2004 budget cycle, but questioned whether it would pass the three-member board.

"I still believe there needs to be cost of living adjustments," he said. "The increases should be according to performance evaluations, not on an accumulative basis. Now raises are based on evaluations whether they're good or bad."

Steele warned throughout his campaign that spending in Moffat County since 1999 was increasing while revenues were decreasing. He cited declining reserves that dropped the county's buying power by 41 percent since December 1998.

"I feel that the philosophy of spending all our dollars for operations and disposable goods is one that could get us in trouble if our economy here in Moffat County were to take a downturn as is the case in most other areas of our country," he wrote in a campaign letter. "I think we should hold that spending down and build our reserves."

Commissioners want to build a 90-day reserve in each fund, a goal that "we're far from," Steele said.

Commissioners have decreased spending in 2003 by about $400,000 in eliminating or restructuring lead management positions. But the county has recently had to ask department heads to slash more than $600,000 mostly from their capital costs to meet the 2003 budget expectations.

Some cost savings may be realized through a safety program the county and Steele have lately been active in.

In his term, Steele said he's learned that change happens as a result of a team effort and working hard toward those goals constantly.

"You can't come in day after day and be a negative person," he said. "You have to develop trust in your fellow commissioners."

It's a job that he "didn't run for as a popularity contest."

"I want people here to say I've been doing what I said I'd do," Steele said. "I've accomplished a few things, cut the bureaucracy level and by necessity cut the budget. One thing I've learned that if you point out a problem you also have to point out a solution."

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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