Funds shifted to cover jail debt

Residents question county move as illegal

The Moffat County commissioners approved a resolution today authorizing a transfer of funds made Thursday.

The fact that the resolution was passed after the funds were transferred had a few Moffat County residents crying foul this morning in a commissioner meeting at the Moffat County Courthouse. The bond payment to cover the loan on the Public Safety Center was due Thursday.

But not enough money was available in the jail fund to do so.

In order to make that payment, the county had to transfer $100,000 from the county general fund and $200,000 from the public safety center fund to the jail fund to make the payment on the loan. The transfers were made Thursday and the money was wired to Wells Fargo Bank, but a resolution approving that transfer was not done by the county commissioners until this morning.

"This is illegal and I object to it," Moffat County resident Lolly Hathhorn told the commissioners shortly before the resolution was passed this morning. "You're not following the law."

Moffat County Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos said she agreed that the resolution should have been passed before the transfers were made.

"You're absolutely right that the resolution should have been done before," she told Hathhorn.

But Raftopoulos said the county was caught between a rock and a hard place, facing a deadline for payment Thursday.

Raftopoulos said she had been under the impression earlier this week that the payment was not due until today. She said she found out when she was on the road Wednesday that the payment was due Thursday.

Had the payment not been made Thursday, there would have been a late penalty, she said.

She also said county attorney Kathleen Taylor, who was not in attendance at today's meeting, was comfortable with the decision to sign the resolution after the funds were transferred.

Moffat County Director of Administrative Services Debra Murray cited a lack of communication between the Moffat County Treasurer's office and her office as the reason for the late notice about the need for fund transfers.

Moffat County Commissioner Darryl Steele said the county must be more aware of situations such as this.

"I want you to stay on top of this," Steele told Murray during the meeting. "I don't want this to happen again."

But he agreed that the county had no choice but to transfer the funds before signing the resolution.

"We have to get the money in there to cover the check," Steele said. "We have to pass the resolution so we don't bounce a check."

The funds being transferred from the general fund and public safety center fund to the jail fund are simply loans, Murray said.

That money will be paid back to those two funds from the jail fund when sales and property taxes are collected next month.

"The money to pay the bank is based on property and sales tax," Murray said. "The problem is, at this time, there wasn't enough cash in there."

The county ran into a similar situation last year, she said, facing a need to transfer funds to make a payment.

In coming years, the county hopefully will not face the need to transfer funds again, she said.

The jail recently signed a contract with Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in which inmates from three federal entities can be housed in the public safety center jail, increasing the revenue brought in by the jail.

"Hopefully we can get the jail fund built up," Murray said.

The contract was signed with INS in early March, she said.

"They have gotten a lot of prisoners in but they haven't gotten the payments from the federal government yet," Murray said.

Even if the revenue does increase at the jail because of the INS contract, it would still be a better fit if the loan payment for the safety center was not due until more sales and property taxes were collected, Murray said.

"It would be so much better if it weren't due until June 15," Murray said. "We'd be in so much better shape than having it due right now."

Moffat County Commissioner Les Hampton suggested an adjustment be made with Wells Fargo Bank to make the payment due date sometime in June or July in future years.

Murray said she would investigate that possibility.

Moffat County resident Charlie Watkins asked why, if this has been an issue in the past, the county faced the situation it did today.

"My concern is if we knew we had a problem last year, why didn't we look at this a little earlier in the year?" Watkins said. "Instead of waiting until the day it is due and passing the resolution a day later."

Moffat County resident Stan Hathhorn also cited concerns about the county's lack of public notice given in making the fund transfer.

Cindy Shanahan, secretary to the commissioners, posted the notice of the meeting Thursday morning when the decision was made that a meeting must be held to pass the resolution.

Hathhorn cited a statute that read: "Any transfer, supplemental appropriation, or revised appropriation made pursuant to this section shall be made only by ordinance or resolution which complies with the notice provisions of section 29-1-106."

Section 29-1-106 states that government must post notices of a meeting in three public places and publish it one time in the newspaper.

"You can't make a same-day budget transfer," he told the commissioners. "It's illegal."

Moffat County Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos said they would have to consult Taylor for her interpretation of the statute cited by Hathhorn.

Josh Nichols can be reached at 824-7031 or jnichols@craigdailypress.com.

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