County continues to wrangle with budget

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Earlier this year, the Moffat County commissioners asked all county departments to cut their budgets by 20 percent.

According to current budget estimates, the sheriff's department has cut expenses by one-third of a percent.

The surprisingly low cut is apparently due to miscommunication between the county commissioners and the sheriff's department.

Originally, the commissioners had asked all departments to get in line with the 2001 operational budget, and the sheriff's department did this.

"When revenues were $500,000 less than expected, we knew we had to get further down," Moffat County Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos said.

That's when the commissioners asked all county departments to cut 20 percent from their 2003 estimated budgets.

But the sheriff's department misunderstood the message and cut 17 percent from the 2001 actual budget, a figure of $1,279,694.

The sheriff department's current estimated budget for this year is $1,216,781.

That number is 14 percent of the county's general fund, and the error could potentially make a significant difference in the county's attempt to enter next year with a positive ending balance.

Still, Undersheriff Jerry Hoberg, who accounts for the sheriff department's finances, said he believes the estimated budget number to be high.

Hoberg stipulated that he was unwilling to commit to any numbers as the time of this printing because he had not yet had a chance to look at the paperwork himself. But he told the commissioners that the estimated budget did not subtract grants for DUI patrols and other services. Grant money would not factor into budget cuts.

He also pointed out that supplemental spending, which the department expects to get back, was not subtracted from the budget cuts. He estimated the department had spent about $77,000 in supplementals.

The majority of the sheriff's department's budget goes toward personnel expenses.

Because the money is tied up in expenses, Moffat County Sheriff Buddy Grinstead complained to the board that he'd be hard pressed to cut expenses.

"It becomes a safety concern," Grinstead told commissioners. "What if an officer is assaulted in the jail because we have low staff? That becomes a lawsuit."

"All year long if I have to cut man power I'll cut man power, but then I'll cut contracts because it's a safety matter," Grinstead said.

The current ending fund balance for this year for Moffat County is $1,158,353. That figure includes the money saved by county employees taking five unpaid furlough days.

The ending fund balance also includes the $82,450 that would be saved by cutting county television, although no vote has been taken on whether to cut county television funding.

Yet by including the cut in their estimates, the commissioners have moved county television that much closer to the chopping block.

And despite the savings included in the current estimated ending fund balance, the balance still is not high enough for Moffat County Commissioner Darryl Steele to approve the budget.

"I won't vote for a budget with only $1.2 million coming out for 2004," Steele told his two fellow commissioners. His fear is that if the county goes into the New Year with such a low fund balance, there won't be enough cash flow to make it through the first three months of 2004.

"I've been waking up in the middle of the night thinking about this," Steele lamented during the discussion with the sheriff's department.

By Nov. 17, the board expects to have a resolution for its $3.5 million refinancing plan. If the refinancing plan goes through, an additional $400,000 would be injected into the ending fund balance, increasing it to $1.6 million.

The commissioners also are hoping that an error has been made in the calculation of the county's personnel cost. They hope that it is $300,000 lower than expected.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031.

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