Our View: Cuts not the answer
In a time when governments and businesses are trying to cut costs in the face of rising expenses, the Moffat County sheriff put forth a proposal to reduce the number of calls to which the department responds.
It’s a move akin to car dealers saying they’ll put fewer vehicles on the lot because caring for them is labor intensive or a fast-food restaurant eliminating hamburgers from its menu because the price of beef has skyrocketed.
You don’t cut the most basic function of a business.
Granted, a government agency has less control over revenues than a business does. As costs go up, government has few options when it comes to increasing revenue.
Everyone is feeling the pinch of increased fuel costs. The Craig Police Department budgeted for a 25 percent increase, the school district’s transportation department expected a 12 percent hike, and the Craig Road and Bridge Department expected 11 percent.
The sheriff’s department estimated 6 percent. If the November 2005 referendum allowing the county to keep excess revenues had passed, the department still planned to budget only a 6 percent increase in fuel costs.
In fact, the voter’s message to county government didn’t change a whole lot in the sheriff’s department budget. Losing the vote meant a $5,000 difference between what the sheriff’s department would have budgeted and what it did.
Most of that went to salaries. Like all service-oriented organizations, a majority of the sheriff’s department expenses — nearly 90 percent — is salaries.
But, what good is it to have a highly trained, well-paid staff that can’t leave the office?
For law enforcement, good customer service is about more than just showing up in an emergency. It’s about making people comfortable with their presence. It’s about giving the security that their neighborhoods will be patrolled at night and that the back roads are quiet.
And law enforcement is all about public service.
Parking a vehicle and waiting for passing speeders isn’t community service, it’s business.
Cuts are needed, but is service really the best place to make them? We understand that driving 26 miles to investigate an anonymous complaint of a barking dog is not the best use of a deputy’s time. We also understand that having a deputy on scene to take a report in some instances is counterproductive.
But, deputies must patrol roads anyway, could responding to those types of calls be part of that patrol?
What does the new policy mean for residents in Dinosaur or other outlying areas of the county? Will they have to drive 90 miles to report theft or vandalism?
How many crimes can be investigated without having looked at the scene?
Perhaps there are other cuts the sheriff’s department could consider, such as operating supplies, which increased in cost from $6,230 in 2004 to $10,000 in 2006. Or the special projects fund which was $10,255 in 2003 and $26,500 in 2006. Or, the $8,500 budgeted for employee education.
We are certainly not experts in law enforcement and its needs, and we understand that there are only so many dollars to go around. But, when cuts are needed, we hope that every other option has been explored before services is among them.
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Routt County is working with both Rio Blanco and Moffat counties and municipalities across northwestern Colorado to create an umbrella organization to better coordinate and pursue economic development in the region.