Running Garfield County to cost $1.5 million |

Running Garfield County to cost $1.5 million

John Colson
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – As Garfield County officials continue to work on the county’s 2010 budget, one thing is certain – paying for the top rung of county government is an expensive proposition.

According to the county’s proposed budget documents, the taxpayers probably will be paying a total of $8,949,551 for the combined functions of the Garfield County commissioners and the county manager’s office.

That figure, however, includes roughly $5.2 million in anticipated grants to human services agencies and other entities, to be made out of the commissioners’ budget, and more than $2.2 million as the county’s share of the 9th Judicial District costs.

With those numbers subtracted, it is expected to cost slightly more than $1.5 million to pay for the departments of the county commissioners and the county manager, if the budget is adopted without changes.

The proposed budget for the commissioners for 2010 is now at $814,705, which includes $221,850 in salaries for the three commissioners, or about $73,000 apiece.

The commissioners’ pay for 2010 is about $4,000 more than the original amount budgeted for the commissioners’ 2009 pay, as adopted during the budgetary process in late 2008.

The pay raise amounts to 2 percent, which is the cap the commissioners set for all county employees, although it is to be reviewed in January to see if the county actually can afford it.

Among the costlier items in the commissioners’ budget for 2010 are $30,000 in travel expenses – $10,000 each.

The commissioners had budgeted the same amount for 2009, but in the “projected” year-end figures the travel budgets were considerably less – $4,500 for Commissioner John Martin, $7,500 for Commissioner Mike Samson and $4,500 for Commissioner Tresi Houpt.

The commissioners also have budgeted more than $150,000 for “professional affiliations,” which refers to annual memberships in such organizations as Colorado Counties Inc. and the National Association of Counties.

The county manager’s department contains five people, including County Manager Ed Green, his administrative assistant, two finance officers from the Department of Human Services and an airport employee.

Green explained that the extra employees are in his department due to bureaucratic limitations imposed on the departments they actually work for.

The department’s overall expenses for 2010, under the proposed budget, are to be $723,795, or roughly 18 percent more than the department’s projected expenses of $610,900 for 2009.

Salaries and benefits for the department are expected to come to $384,070 for 2010, which is a 16 percent increase over the projected 2009 total salaries and benefits of $330,000.

The reason the increases are greater than the 2 percent limits imposed by the commissioners, according to finance officials, is partly because this year, for the first time in years, the budget now reflects all the money allocated to salaries and benefits for all positions in all departments, as authorized by the commissioners.

For several years, explained Finance Director Lisa Dawson, the county has been gathering the salaries of all unfilled positions into a “contingency fund” that the commissioners controlled. If a position were filled, Dawson explained, the salary would be released from the contingency fund, which in 2008 and 2009 accounted for more than $5 million per year.

The reason for the contingency fund method, explained Green, was that about six years ago a department head decided to redirect money intended for new positions in his department.

Instead, Green said, the official, whom Green did not identify, handed out the money as raises for his existing employees, which displeased the commissioners enough to alter the way salaries and benefits were handled.

Under Dawson, who came to the job this year, the county has reverted to what she said is a more easily managed system of keeping track of positions and pay.

In addition, Wagenman explained, the salary and benefit increases have been higher than the 2 percent limit on pay raises in part because of 8 percent increases in premiums for health insurance, which are not considered pay raises.

The commissioners and county staff will continue fine tuning the budget until it is adopted, as required by state law, in December.

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