Routt County's projected $4.9 million budget deficit may have unintended consequences for Moffat and Grand counties.
The Routt County Commission implemented a 10 percent cut in personnel budgets across all its departments to help bring the county back into the black, commission chairman Doug Monger said.
But there's a snag with the 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office.
Routt County shares personnel funding for the district attorney with Moffat and Grand counties, which make up the rest of the judicial district.
By state statute, each county must pay a portion of the district attorney's total personnel budget relative to their populations.
In short, Moffat County Attorney Kathleen Taylor said, it seems that if Routt County wants to cut its allocation to district attorney personnel by 10 percent, then Moffat and Grand would have to do the same.
If a 10 percent cut were approved, it would reduce the district attorney's personnel budget by $116,285, including $30,234 from Moffat County, $33,723 for Grand and $52,328 for Routt.
Donna Zulian, the district attorney's office administrator, said during the Moffat County Commission meeting Monday that such a cut would force the district attorney to eliminate one position and make other employees take unpaid leaves of absence.
District Attorney Elizabeth Oldham did not return calls to her office or cell phone before press time Tuesday.
Routt County does not want to put its neighbors in this position, Monger said.
"We were originally just going to cut our portion of that, but we found out we couldn't do that," he said.
The issue came before the Moffat County Commission at its Monday meeting and the Grand County Commission on Tuesday. Both bodies chose to table their decisions until the various county attorneys can sort out some questions.
Moffat County Commissioner Tom Mathers said he wants to know whether majority rules or whether all three counties have to agree.
"If Routt and Grand want to do this, does that mean we have to?" he asked.
Taylor said her opinion is, any change to the district attorney's budget would have to be unanimous. Monger, however, said he thinks the statute "lends itself" to a majority vote.
Regardless, Routt County does not intend to let the issue divide the partnership between the counties, he added. It probably will come down to the different commissions meeting together and seeing whether there can be a compromise, such as a 3 percent cut instead of 10.
"We're not here to ride the line or force anyone to do anything," Monger said.
It's a complex problem with no easy answer brought on by a "stupid law," Mathers said.
"I don't want to cut anything because those are citizens of Moffat County," he said. "We can afford to keep what we budgeted. We don't want to lay off anybody."
The District Attorney's Office is crucial to the county, Mathers added, and he doesn't want to damage its performance.
"We've had trouble keeping good DA's in that office for some time, because we can't pay as much as other counties," he said. "I'd certainly like to find some way of keeping their funding up instead of backpedaling and losing anybody."
Monger said that if Moffat and Grand counties refuse to cut anything from personnel, Routt County likely would try to cut the $52,328 from district attorney operations instead.
Because each county maintains their own operations budgets, that wouldn't affect Moffat and Grand, but it would present its own problems.
"We're all realists," Monger said. "We know we can't cut operations down to zero and pay people to be here and not do anything."
When it comes down to making a decision, Mathers said it will be one of the toughest calls he's had to make as a commissioner. Does he help out a neighboring county in trouble and put a local resident out of work, or does he side with the person who works two floors above him at the courthouse and possibly hurt Routt County?
"There's a lot of information still to come out of this before we decide anything, but right now, I want to be able to give the money we promised to our department," Mathers said. "That's how I want to vote, but I don't know what will happen, really."