Personnel on county's chopping block

From the looks of Moffat County's embattled 2003 and 2004 budgets, it's likely the future of services in Moffat County will face some changes.

Moffat County commissioners have long stated that local county services and county-owned entities outweigh those in other areas.

While some services, such as law enforcement, elections, an assessor's office, treasurer and road and bridge department, are mandated by the state, taxpayers in Moffat County support many more services than that through county coffers.

Some at least partially owned county services include a landfill, cemetery, museum and library.

But as county commissioners grapple with cutting back to meet end-of-year projections and balance 2004 figures, some department heads question whether they're being asked to cut more from their state-mandated budgets than is reasonable.

"As the county grows and gets busier, they're asking if we can cut employees down and we can't," said County Clerk Elaine Sullivan.

By 2006, Sullivan said the county needs to comply with new election procedures. That means saving up capital expenditures for new equipment, a $50,000 expense that was cut this year but should be reinstated for the 2005 budget cycle.

"I think (commissioners) are ignoring the mandates," she said. "They said they wouldn't take any of my employees before."

According to Sheriff Buddy Grinstead, the mandated role of county law enforcement is to provide a civil process, operate the county jail and maintain patrol enforcement.

"Number one, it's the highest priority that I have money to complete the services at the office. We might have to tighten up our belts a notch or two to do that," he said.

Patrol services will be carried out even if it means doubling and tripling up officers in a vehicle to cut down on auto-related costs. But Grinstead was less sure if costs associated with prisoner transport would be a sticking point.

Overall, he estimated the county sheriff's department wouldn't be able to operate at the same level of service it has in the past.

"I don't think residents will see the level of service they have experienced," Grinstead said.

To cut back on future county costs, commissioners have entertained the notion with Craig/Moffat County Library officials of asking voters to approve a library district.

Creating a district would eliminate county funds for the facility, creating its own taxing entity. That move may return as much as two mills to the county funds.

"I think there's a limit to all these services," said Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos. "In some ways a district is the way to go. We have to look at working smarter if people will support it."

In the last few years, some county departments have been added -- which usually represent the first suggestions by employees and residents of departments that should be cut to balance the budget.

Human Resources, for example, is one new department necessary for the county to receive liability insurance.

Raftopoulos defended the newly formed Natural Resources Department because, "70 percent of the county's income depends on the county's public lands."

Seventy percent of Moffat County taxpayers are based on oil and gas holdings and power utilities. The Natural Resource Department is important to keep wilderness claims out of Moffat County, to pave the way for more oil and gas development, she said.

"(Moffat County) is kind of like the infant child coming along," she said. "Routt County and even Rio Blanco County don't have some of the services we have."

Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak spoke to some the services she's seen doled out to separate taxing entities over her ten years in office.

"I think there's a lot of things that we considered in our budgets that we can't do anymore," she said.

Routt County used to own a landfill and provided County TV services, two services which they no longer provide.

"I think there's a point when push comes to shove, the citizens will have to pay for the services," she said.

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

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