Elected officials ask county to stop cuts

A handful of Moffat County's elected officials gathered in the commissioner's board room Monday to voice opposition over cutbacks to the county's state-mandated services.

Sheriff Buddy Grinstead, County Clerk Elaine Sullivan and County Assessor Suzanne Brinks recently drafted letters recently and approached commissioners asking to escape further budget cuts and instead look toward cutting from non-mandated departments.

"At what point do we impair our services for having departments that aren't mandated?" posed Grinstead.

"We are fighting for the health of our offices right now," echoed County Assessor Suzanne Brinks. "I think you should seriously look at other departments that are not needed. It's not fair when I'm trying to run an office, and I don't know how I'm going to do my job if I have to make more cuts."

The trio was most concerned with cutting personnel--a prospect that would make it difficult, if not impossible, to carry out the tasks associated with each office, they said.

County Commissioner Les Hampton assured elected officials that the mandated departments wouldn't lose any more positions, but reserved the decision for personnel cuts in other areas pending a refinancing plan on Certificates of Participation for the Public Safety Center.

If that refinancing plan falls through, commissioners may be forced to cut at least an additional $400,000 from the 2004 budget to meet a fast-approaching Dec. 15 deadline.

"The very last place I want to cut is personnel, because I believe employees bring value to the workplace," Hampton said.

But if the refinancing, currently being handled by the GK Baum Company isn't successful, commissioners may have little choice but to balance the budget with personnel and other cuts.

If approved, the loan will cover a $450,000 Public Safety Center payment with about $250,000 to spare that commissioners desperately want to apply to county expenses.

Commissioners expected to receive the results of refinancing plan early last week, but said they will wait until Dec. 1 for a definite response.

In the event that the county is denied loan approval, "There may be a situation at the time that dictates no other choices," Hampton said.

In a letter to county commissioners, Grinstead offered a slew of suggestions for cutting non-mandated services. He also proposed chopping his own, and other salaries of the county's elected officials for a more than $50,000 savings.

If the county reclassified itself under a different category, salaries for county commissioners, for example, could be cut $6,320 each, he said.

"I am willing to assist and do whatever I can to help out Moffat County," he said. "Hopefully we can work as a team to get this financial situation turned around."

Commissioners said they can't tell elected officials to cut personnel, but they can lower departments' budget totals.

According to Grinstead, cutting from his bottom line essentially means he must cut personnel.

Slashing an overall additional five percent off the Sheriff's 2004 budget would mean losing a road deputy position, further cutting into the mandated service, he said.

"Since first taking office in 1999, I have lost one sheriff deputy road position and I am still down four detention officer positions that were agreed to by the Board of County Commission to operate the new jail," Grinstead said. "We run a grave risk of having more than one emergency call for service at the same time and by having our deputies doubled up they can only respond to one emergency. Because of this I have rescinded the directive that they double up when working."

Commissioners could offer little less than to urge that department officials try to work through the budget crunch as a team, while preparing officials for the worst case possibilities.

"It's critically important that we work together," said Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos. "If we want to continue to have success you have to know how important the Certificates (of Participation) are to the county."

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

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