District attorney hopes to keep staff despite budget deficit
It's hard to look at Routt County's $4.9 million budget deficit and be upset the commission wants to make cuts, said Elizabeth Oldham, 14th Judicial District Attorney.
At the same time, she knows personnel cuts in the amount being proposed could make an already overstretched staff even thinner.
"Many of my attorneys, I believe, are already underpaid, have a lot of cases and I'm worried about retaining them," Oldham said.
The Routt County Commission has adopted a plan to cut personnel expenses by 10 percent across all its departments to help meet its deficit. The action is part of a broad plan that includes spending about $5 million of the county's reserves, as well, said Doug Monger, Routt County Commission chairman.
"We're looking at any and every opportunity we can to reduce expenses," he said Tuesday. "We've always tried to approach the DA's office similar to all our other departments."
Unbeknownst to its members when personnel cuts originally were approved, Routt County cannot reduce its allocation to the District Attorney's Office without Moffat and Grand counties doing the same.
In effect, if Routt County wants to decline its personnel contribution to the district attorney by 10 percent, then the other two counties that make up the judicial district would have to make the exact same cuts.
At 10 percent, that equals $30,234 for Moffat County, $33,723 for Grand and $52,328 for Routt, at a total of $116,285 for Oldham to absorb.
Officials have not decided what to do, and have temporarily turned over the matter to county attorneys to discuss.
Oldham said she did not have a set plan on how to reduce her budget if the cuts go through. However, a 10 percent cut across the district likely would force her to eliminate one position and have employees take unpaid leaves.
Oldham said she does not know what position would be temporarily vacated if she had to make that choice.
"I want to do everything in my power to not have to do that," she said.
Her office already is under-staffed, Oldham added, pointing to a vacant victim/witness coordinator position in Grand County. Leaving another position open would put more responsibility on everyone.
"People now are already having to fill in for that position, and it's not a long-term solution," she said. "But it's something we have to do."
Oldham said her office always has been handed the short end of the stick before when it came to the three counties' budget decisions. In the past, when the three counties were giving their employees pay increases, the District Attorney's Office had to take the lowest raise among the three counties.
For instance, Moffat County couldn't afford to give raises one year, and so District Attorney's Office employees in Moffat, Routt and Grand counties didn't get any raises, Oldham said.
She hopes that maybe this year, the tri-county process can work in her staff's favor.
Knowing that cuts are likely, however, Oldham said she is trying to find proactive solutions rather than wait for a decision.
The District Attorney's Office is looking at other ways to pay for personnel, such as outside government grants, Oldham said.
She intended to apply for a grant to hire an additional deputy district attorney who dealt exclusively with sexual assault cases - which she said are "skyrocketing," especially in Moffat County - but might be able to use any approved funding for more general staff.
If Moffat and Grand counties refuse to reduce personnel, Monger said Routt County may take the money from the district attorney's operations fund.
In that case, Oldham said she would do the best she could with the money available.
"It would have a huge consequence on how we do business," she said. "It doesn't mean that public safety isn't our No. 1 agenda, but we'll have to work within our budget."
Oldham plans to appear at the Moffat County Commission meeting Tuesday to discuss the matter with local officials.