ASPEN - The addition of a third lawyer in the Pitkin County Attorney's Office received an informal go-ahead Tuesday from county commissioners, though some of them were critical about proposing the new position now because the 2013 budget was just given final approval in December.
A budget amendment for the position will come back to commissioners for formal adoption at a later date.
The need to increase legal services to other county departments, coupled with leading the fight to defend Thompson Divide against new gas-drilling activities, is driving the request, County Attorney John Ely said. It wasn't apparent the additional staffing would be necessary when budget preparations began last year, he said.
Hiring outside counsel to help would probably cost double the $144,000 proposed for the position, which includes $120,000 from the general fund and $24,000 from the Healthy Rivers and Streams Fund, Ely added.
County commissioners have made Thompson Divide and water issues a priority for the legal team, he said.
"It really is no exaggeration that the county has been doing the majority of the legal work surrounding the Thompson Divide gas issue," Ely said.
Commissioner Michael Owsley didn't question the need for the additional attorney, but he was the most critical of the timing of the request because it didn't receive the sort of scrutiny it would during the budget process.