DA asks for more money, receives it

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STEAMBOAT SPRINGS -- Commissioners from Moffat, Routt and Grand counties agreed Monday to increase the salaries of the prosecutors serving the 14th Judicial District.

Wage increases were approved across the board for the district attorney, her deputies and staff. A new prosecutor will be added in Moffat County to handle Moffat County's district court cases.

The increases and new position will cost about $25,000 for Moffat County, and the combined cost for Routt and Grand counties is more than $60,000. Routt County pays the lion's share, or 44 percent, of the operations throughout the district, and Grand and Moffat counties split the difference.

According to District Attorney Bonnie Roesink, Moffat County has the district's highest number of felony charges. As of September, Moffat County had 227 felonies on the record, and officials expect that number to top 300 by the end of the year. By then, Moffat County district attorneys may prosecute about 100 more felony cases than their counterparts in Routt County and handle about 150 more felony cases than Grand County.

Considering Moffat County's large volume, Roesink advocated for parity with salaries compared with other attorneys and public defenders.

"One reason deputy attorneys are leaving is because they have huge bills to pay," Roesink said of the high costs of law school. "When we get a good DA with experience, we don't want them to burn out and end up losing them."

Roesink said drug charges were the reason for more felony charges in Moffat County. Of the county's caseload, nearly 40 percent of the cases are connected with methamphetamine.

Commissioners from their respective counties and some deputy district attorneys who showed for the meeting discussed possible cost-saving measures.

Grand County Commissioner James Newberry disagreed that "throwing money" at methamphetamine would decrease its use.

"That's not going to make it go away," he said. "We won't be able to prosecute meth users out of the county."

Roesink agreed but said prosecutors need to have the resources and incentives to send drug dealers to jail.

According to figures compiled by the DA's office, it can take between 10 and 17 hours of work to prosecute one felony case that doesn't go to a jury trial. Time spent to prosecute a felony case that goes to a jury trial can reach 98 hours, the office reported.

Commissioners approved a new DA to work Moffat County's district courts because of the county's large felony caseload and the hours it takes to prosecute.

As head of the district, Roesink is responsible for increasing employee salaries within the budgeted parameters. Roesink's salary also will increase from $78,000 to a tentative 2.5 percent increase a year during the next four years. Commissioners have yet to finalize Roesink's increase.

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

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