Garfield County sheriff warned to stay within his budget
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The Garfield County commissioners and Sheriff Lou Vallario were somewhat at odds this week over how the sheriff handles his budget.
More specifically, the commissioners called Vallario into a meeting to caution him against going over his approved 2009 budget due to unanticipated personnel costs.
No specific numbers were discussed, and no specific names were attached to the chat, but the commissioners made it clear they were concerned.
“We’re watching very closely,” intoned Commissioner John Martin. “We’re saying, be careful here, don’t exceed your budget. We see some anomalies every now and then in quarterly finance reports. We don’t want to see any supplementals,” meaning requests for funds above the amount of the approved budget.
The commissioners were reacting to a report from county finance director Lisa Dawson, who expressed concerns that the sheriff’s spending is ahead of other county departments for this time of the year.
She explained that the sheriff’s department, which has a number of vacancies, is expected to try to fill those vacancies at some point.
If that happens, she told the Post Independent, Vallario might very well overtop his approved budget of $2.3 million for the year.
Vallario said he is not “trying to be resistant or combative or anything like that,” but maintained that some of the items that worried Dawson are one-time expenditures, or cannot be avoided.
“Probably the biggest anomaly, if you will,” he told the commissioners, “[is due to the fact that] I conducted an informal wage survey” to determine how his salaries stack up with other, similar law enforcement departments in the region.
In order to remain competitive and attract recruits, he said, he set the staring salary for deputies to a higher level, more than $21,000, but felt that if that pushed him somewhat over his budget it would be “absorbed, because of our vacancies … those excess funds that were budgeted.”
Dawson, however, said Vallario was operating under outdated budgetary procedures. She has instituted tighter budgetary controls since taking her job last year, she said, and the “contingency fund” formerly used to hold unused salaries meant for vacant positions is no longer how it’s done.
Now, she said, the budget tracks all salary and wage expenses minutely through the year, and there is no unused pot of money to be used as a cushion.
Vallario argued that, over the course of six years on the job, “we’ve been pretty accurate” in his budgets, and the commissioners agreed.
But this year, Martin said, “We need to all have the same game plan. We’re getting out of the green area, we’re into the yellow area. We don’t want to see any red.”
Vallario, maintaining that his budget remains under control and within expectations, indicated he felt the problems were not substantive and could be solved by keeping a closer eye on things.
“If there’s been a lack of communication, we just probably need to improve that,” he said.
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It’s that time of year — hikers and mountain bikers must be aware that seasonal closures are taking effect on multiple trails in the area today for the winter for the benefit of wildlife.