14th District Attorney requests 12% budget bump with staffing ‘nearly in crisis’
Steamboat Pilot & Today
The 14th Judicial District Attorney’s Office is requesting a 12% budget increase for next year, a move that hopes to stave off a staffing crisis in the office that prosecutes crimes in Routt, Moffat and Grand counties.
District Attorney Matt Karzen met with commissioners in each of the counties on Tuesday, Sept. 28, to request an 8% increase in his budget for personnel, which he said would be helpful to the office when competing for employees with other prosecutor’s offices and resort town sandwich shops.
“We are, I can tell you, nearly in crisis scenario in terms of our ability to recruit and keep qualified people,” Karzen said. “It’s not quite a crisis, but we’ve had a vacancy in our Moffat County office for some time.”
There will be another deputy district attorney vacancy in Grand County in October, as Karzen said that prosecutor lost their lease and has been unable to find an affordable option.
Routt and Grand county commissioners approved the proposed budget increase on Tuesday, but the board in Moffat County said it needed more time to assess their own budget before they could OK their share of the increase, which is $92,728 for next year.
While Moffat Commissioner Tony Bohrer admitted the increase is likely needed, he said they are trying to find about $1.7 million in their budget to give their own staff significant raises for the first time in 20 years. Also looming is a substantial decline in revenue in county coffers expected when the Craig Station powers down later this decade.
“We’re sitting here at about a $1.7 million increase just in our salaries … and still trying to figure out a budget knowing in four to six years you’re going to lose 47% of your budget,” Bohrer said. “I don’t see how we can’t do this, to be honest with you, but I want to make sure that where we are going to slide the money over and do those things before we make that decision.”
Bohrer said Moffat County should be ready to approve the budget by late October or early November. If Moffat would need to request a change to what Routt and Grand approved, it would require the three county boards to reconvene and reapprove the district attorney budget.
The three counties fund the District Attorney’s office based on population, with Routt paying the largest share of about 46%. Still, that is a slightly smaller portion than it was last year, as the 2020 census actually showed a decline in population when compared to 2019 American Community Survey estimates.
This increased Moffat County’s share of the personnel budget and is why its portion of funding increased 17%, while Grand County’s went up 12% and Routt County’s just 10%.
Prior to approving the increase, Grand County Commissioner Rich Cimino said while the increase for next year is steep, he trusts Karzen will use the money efficiently.
“I’ve been here six years and I’ve seen DA Karzen and his predecessor — man they’re thrifty,” Cimino said. “I’m glad we had this conversation, I’m glad we scrutinized this budget, but we’re ready to approve now.”
In addition to personnel expenses, Karzen said part of the increase is because they need to purchase a new vehicle for the office. He also asked for a total of $63,000 a year to significantly upgrade the office’s technology capabilities.
Currently, the office has different IT services in each county, sometimes requiring prosecutors to have multiple computers to log in to multiple private networks. While this has worked, Karzen said they have been exposing more and more problems with this system amid short staffing.
This is increasingly important as prosecutors are working across counties. For example, Karzen said the entire frontline prosecuting corps in Routt County would be out for the next two months with new babies.
“What I’m trying to achieve here is sort of the efficient and smooth operation of our information,” Karzen said. “I can get a ton of work done in the evenings or on weekends regardless of what county I need to be in if I can quickly get in and out of the information I need. The more I’m able to do that, the more [thoughtfully] I’m able to do my job.”
Money for a pretrial services program in the 14th District is not part of next year’s budget. Routt County is taking the lead to study the concept and Karzen said he has received several proposals to assess what program might fit the district and how it might be funded. A program could launch in 2024, he said.
“Right now, we’re taking it in steps and the committee’s preference was let’s get this data, let’s get the results of this study and then start looking at what a program might look like,” Karzen said.
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