DA’s office seeks wage hike | AspenTimes.com

DA’s office seeks wage hike

Pete Fowler
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” District Attorney Martin Beeson’s 2008 budget request includes salary increases to bring wages closer to par with Front Range jobs.

Prosecutors in the 9th Judicial District still can go to the Front Range of Colorado and find higher pay with a lower cost of living, plus the amenities of a larger city. The district includes Pitkin, Garfield and Rio Blanco counties and all three juridictions help fund the DA’s office.

“We’re closing that gap [in salaries],” Beeson said. “We’re becoming more competitive.”

Beeson said Front Range offices start deputy DAs at about $50,000 a year, and this year his office started two county court deputy DAs at $45,000 a year.

In the requested budget is a 10 percent salary increase for all staffers ” a 6 percent cost-of-living increase, plus 4 percent to be distributed based on merit.

Wages were budgeted at $1.27 million for 2007. The 2008 request puts them at $1.39 million.

The sum is distributed among 12 attorneys, two investigators, three office staffers and seven legal assistants. Beeson’s salary would not increase ” it was set by state statute at the beginning of his term.

“I’m excited about the prospects and the future of who we can attract to come here if and when a position does open up,” he said.

That’s a likely scenario. Beeson said he may ask for funding for another prosecutor in mid-2008 to handle increasing caseloads. The state decided to appoint another judge to the district in July for the same reason.

“We’re experiencing an influx of population,” Beeson said. “It’s natural that we’re going to have an increase in crime.”

Through the end of June this year, the DA’s office filed 3,696 cases from traffic violations to felonies and projects a 7 percent increase over 2006. Garfield County continues to carry the highest caseload in the district.

According to the 2008 request, 70 percent of the cases come from Garfield County ” roughly equal to the proportion of population when compared to the other two counties that make up the 9th Judicial District.

Beeson said transitory workers who aren’t rooted in the communities are linked to an increase in drug cases. He said the oil and gas industry represents a portion of this phenomenon, but he didn’t want to single that industry out.

“I don’t believe it’s any different from any other in terms of bad apples,” he said. “That’s where an influx of population is coming from.”

But filings represent only a part of cases in the courts. There are always procedings such as probation revocations and post-conviction motions. Among other big events, the DA’s office expects this year’s homicide case and an arson trial set for January to be lengthy and costly. In addition, a 10-year-old homicide investigation is on the verge of producing an arrest and filing of charges, according to the budget request. That will involve extraditing the suspect from another country. Beeson said he couldn’t disclose details of the case.

The 2008 budget request totals about $2.41 million, down almost $45,000 ” or about 1.8 percent ” from 2007’s initial budget. It will require approval from each of the three counties that make up the district.

“The (county) commissioners are very forward thinking in making these compensation packages livable and competitive,” Beeson said.