Commissioners for Routt, Grand and Moffat counties agreed Monday to trim the 14th Judicial District Attorney's personnel budget by 5 percent in 2010, to make up for lost revenue.
The cut came despite District Attorney Elizabeth Oldham's projection of an increase in court cases this year in the three-county district, including an increase in serious crimes that Oldham said drives the cost of prosecuting ever higher.
The personnel budget for the District Attorney's office is set by consensus among the three boards of county commissioners, but the separate boards of county commissioners set the operating budget for the offices in each county.
Oldham said that the 5 percent cut will save Routt County $24,340 next year. Routt County is looking for ways to save money because, despite 10 percent furloughs and additional cuts, Routt County Finance Director Dan Strnad said the county budget is about $400,000 over revenue projections.
Overall, the budget cut amounts to $48,274 for the district attorney's office in 2010.
The three counties in the 14th Judicial District contribute a portion of the budget for the District Attorney's Office based on population. Routt County contributes 45 percent, Grand County contributes 27 percent, and Moffat County contributes 28 percent. Routt County's total budget for the district attorney's office is $639,000.
Oldham said that she expected the budget cut and will now have to decide if she will make up the 5 percent by not filling vacant positions or by cutting staff salary.
She said, based on the number of cases that have gone through the court so far this year, she expects about 293 additional cases, though she said that does not fully reflect the increase in cost.
"The problem is that we're seeing an increase in serious crime. It used to be we had a murder every five, seven years, if that," she said. In the past several years there have been several murder cases, including the conviction of Terry Hankins in Moffat County, the re-prosecution and conviction of Thomas Johnson after a mistrial for a murder committed in Routt County, and the conviction of Luz Cisneros for the murder of her child in Routt County in 2007.
Routt County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush said she did not see a significant increase in serious cases based on Oldham's projections - an increase of two felony cases in Routt County, and a total of 34 more felonies in the district - but Oldham said even a couple of high-level cases can drastically increase costs.
"Really where it effects the DA's office, it's not necessarily the numbers. It's more the type of cases we've had," she said.
Routt County Commissioners last year declined to implement a budget cut for the DA's office, after Grand and Moffat county commissioners said the budget already was set and they did not want to make cuts. In response, Oldham offered a $42,700 cut in the operations budget for Routt County, which commissioners accepted.
Oldham said she expects to start meeting with finance directors from the three counties soon to discuss operation budgets for 2010.