The Pitkin County Finance Department will seek an extra $175,840 from the Board of County Commissioners on behalf of the Sheriff’s Office, which racked up overtime and other costs because of the investigation into the murder of Aspen native Nancy Pfister.
That figure could climb a little higher over the next two weeks as other expenses are totaled, according to Undersheriff Ron Ryan. Commissioners held budget meetings on Tuesday, and a more complete picture of the overall cost will be unveiled at a meeting on July 15, he said.
“The numbers today are somewhat incomplete,” Ryan said Tuesday.
The request is categorized as a supplement to the county’s 2014 budget. County Budget Director Connie Garofalo provided a breakdown of the expenses tallied so far:
• $85,000 for deputies and regular staff overtime.
• $35,000 for Pitkin County Jail staff overtime.
• $16,500 for an additional jail deputy.
• $39,340 for other costs, including Colorado Bureau of Investigation staff lodging and food, air-conditioned trailers to store evidence and additional expenses.
“For the moment, that’s what we’re going to ask the board for,” Garofalo said. “Of course, both the jail and the Sheriff’s Office had budgeted for overtime, but they budgeted for normal circumstances. At the beginning of the investigation, the numbers were off the charts. These numbers are our best guess at the moment.”
To cover the extra department costs, commissioners likely will have to dip into the county’s unrestricted general fund balance, a source of money for emergencies. Currently, that fund balance contains more than $10 million, Garofalo said.
“We certainly have enough that we can cover this request,” she said. The final decision will be made by the five commissioners.
The Finance Department asks each department not to plan for a “worst-case scenario” so that each budget is not overinflated, she said. The Sheriff’s Office homicide investigation into Pfister’s death amounts to such a scenario, Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said.
Other emergency situations early this year, such as the Sheriff’s Office’s role following a Jan. 5 private jet crash at the Aspen-Pitkin County airport, may have contributed slightly to the deputies’ overtime figure, Garofalo added.
As for the jail, extra expenses were incurred by using jail deputies to transport defendants held in other counties when they were required to make Pitkin County Courthouse appearances for various hearings related to the case.
“That back and forth involved a lot of overtime,” Garofalo said.
Defendant William Styler, 66, was in the custody of the Pitkin County Jail from the time of his March 3 arrest until recently. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder on June 20 and was sentenced to 20 years in state prison on the same day.
Defendants Nancy Styler, 62, and Katherine Carpenter, 56, were held in Eagle County and Garfield County jail facilities, respectively. First-degree murder charges against both women have been dismissed and they are free, although authorities are continuing to investigate a theft charge against Carpenter, a former Aspen bank teller.
DiSalvo said William Styler no longer is being held in the Pitkin County Jail. He is at the state Department of Corrections’ Reception and Diagnostic Center in the Denver area, a first stop for all state prisoners.
He will be evaluated “to see which facility he best fits in to,” the sheriff said. William Styler is said to be an invalid, and as part of his plea bargain, local authorities will recommend that he serve his sentence in a state prison with medical facilities.
DiSalvo said he hopes the costs related to the investigation start to stabilize, but that there will always be some expense, given that the Sheriff’s Office has to store evidence and many of William Styler’s possessions, including two vehicles, indefinitely. The department is renting temperature-controlled cargo containers.
“I hope the numbers start stabilizing at some point,” the sheriff said. “The side that we’re not looking at is, had this (investigation and prosecution) gone on a year, that could be in the millions. That would be a number with a real impact on Pitkin County.”
To obtain a conviction and sentence in a murder case within four months, “and to be basically out of this, is good for all of us as human beings, but financially, this is working out. This would have had an big impact on residents. I don’t know how long it could have gone on, plus appeals,” DiSalva said.
A murder investigation “is an expense you cannot budget for, like a wildfire, a flood,” he added. “If every department budgeted for a worst-case scenario, there would be nothing left.”
District Attorney Sherry Caloia said there was minimal financial impact on her budget. Prosecutors and investigators are salaried employees. Investigators could be eligible for some comp days, she said.
Pfister was 57 when her body was found in a closet inside her West Buttermilk Road home. Prosecutors said William Styler hit her in the head with a hammer as she slept. They were embroiled in a financial dispute, authorities have said.