Commissioners, sheriff face off over budget

Budget woes put public officials at odds

As the deadline for budget finalization looms and the Moffat County commissioners try to head into next year with as much carry-over as possible, they met with Sheriff Buddy Grinstead to iron out the last financial wrinkles in one county department that looks like it will not be able to cut its spending this year.

At issue was $46,000 in spending on fringe benefits that will push the sheriff's office over budget in 2003.

Grinstead argued adamantly that he has never had control over spending under the line item "Personnel." Grinstead said the numbers in the personnel budget are calculated by the human resources and accounting departments. Grinstead appeared genuinely shocked that he was being questioned about shortages in a personnel budget he did not set or approve. The numbers in the "fringe benefits" category appeared far out of line. But Grinstead did not set those numbers, and the person who did is no longer handy for questioning. He maintained that it was a problem outside his control.

Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos did not agree.

"You have control over personnel," Raftopoulos said. "You have total control over who's hired, who's not. You do have control."

And while Raftopoulos and Grinstead argued over how much control Grinstead actually has, Commissioner Darryl Steele offered to "take the argument out of this."

He suggested putting the $46,000 back in the budget for the sake of argument to see where the sheriff's office stood, financially, with regard to the items indisputably under the sheriff's control.

This calculation revealed the sheriff's office has approximately $16,500 left.

"Projecting payroll till the end of the year, you have base payroll with no overtime and $16,559 left. So that's where we're at," Steele said.

Raftopoulos asked Grinstead if he thought he could stay within that amount.

Grinstead said he could stay within the budget, perhaps avoiding costly purchases such as tires, etc., until the new year.

"That's pretty slim though," Steele said.

"That's how accounting works," Grinstead said, explaining that big purchases usually are made after the first of the year and things get much tighter toward the year's end.

Still, Grinstead showed hesitation at accepting the figures.

"I'm just shocked at the numbers you're throwing me today," he said.

Raftopoulos asked Grinstead why he was complaining about not having full control over his budget, considering the complicated insurance and tax issues that have to be addressed.

"I don't know who would be better at (calculating those personnel costs) than accounting," Raftopoulos said.

Grinstead spoke of the unpredictable nature of the business of law enforcement, which he said was not designed to turn a profit. While he anticipated staying within his budget, he said unexpected costs, such as prisoner transports, search and rescue operations, juvenile watch and detox cases can't be predicted.

Grinstead said he is aware of the efforts of the commission to balance the budget, and understands how necessary it is. He even described some of his own tactics, including a recent letter to the Craig Police Department informing them of a new policy aimed at cutting costs.

Traditionally, when police take custody of a person needing a mental health evaluation at the state hospital in Pueblo, the sheriff's office would provide a van and one deputy for the transport. Grinstead's letter informed Craig police he will no longer be able to provide this service if the detainee was picked up in the city of Craig.

Grinstead also discussed the controversial decision by the commissioners to require signed purchase orders for all county expenditures.

Raftopoulos and Steele said they will be revising that policy to provide Grinstead with a little more flexibility.

Raftopoulos reiterated the necessity of the policy, however, saying that counties across Colorado are experiencing the same kind of difficulties and that the economic downturn is affecting everyone.

Steele said the purchase order mandate went a little too far. He said the policy would be revised. But he said the whole purchase order situation arose out of frustration after commissioners tried other techniques to curb spending.

And although Steele said he believes department heads were earnestly trying to cut costs, it wasn't changing the actual end-of-year projections on paper. More than three months were spent wrestling with the issue, and Steele said the county government finally decided to take the step of requiring written permission for all purchases.

Both Steele and Raftopoulos said the policy is not permanent.

Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or jbrowning@craigdailypress.com.

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