Sheriff, landfill top Pitkin County budget requests
Pitkin County administrators are proposing a more than $142 million budget for 2020, which is about $6 million less than this year because of fewer construction projects and capital improvements.
Some of the larger requests in next year’s proposed budget, which must be approved by county commissioners by Dec. 15, include nearly $7 million in improvements to the landfill, $3.4 million in road maintenance and significant investments in the Sheriff’s Office.
“We want to make sure these are the services and infrastructure that Pitkin County residents need and want,” said Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock in explaining the budget process to commissioners Tuesday.
Pitkin County department heads will take turns over the next two months presenting details of their portion of the budget to the county board, which can tweak things as board members see fit. Commissioners are scheduled to approve the final budget Dec. 10.
A majority of the $142.3 million proposed 2020 budget comes from special funds that collect voter-approved taxes, including the Open Space and Trails program and Aspen Ambulance District. Others come from “enterprise funds” that generate fees and revenue and support agencies like the airport and the landfill.
The rest of the money comes from the county’s general fund, which accounts for sales tax, property tax and other fees that fund general government operations. For 2020, that general fund contribution comes to $31.8 million a 7.5% increase over 2019.
Of that nearly $32 million, the largest piece of the pie — 35% — is the $11.1 million that goes toward funding public safety. And next year constitutes a big ask on the part of Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo.
First, he wants the board to approve money from the general fund to support two more full-time patrol deputies. Then, the sheriff wants two more deputies who would be posted full-time at the Aspen airport, which would be paid for out of the airport’s enterprise fund.
Peacock said the addition of four more deputies will significantly cut down on overtime costs at the Sheriff’s Office.
DiSalvo also wants to add one more deputy at the Pitkin County Jail, where the inmate population has not only been increasing in numbers in recent years, but also in complexity of issues that need constant addressing, Peacock said.
Medical and nursing services at the jail have been an issue for years, though next year’s proposal would more than double the amount now spent on them. The sheriff wants nearly $189,000 more per year to fund those services, which would increase that medical contract to nearly $339,000 next year.
Those services are currently handled by a nurse practitioner, which “is not sustainable,” Peacock said. Jail Director Kim Vallario has explored numerous options to try to get around that significant increase, but has been unable to find a cheaper solution, said Connie Baker, the county’s finance director.
Finally, DiSalvo must staff the newly built security station at the Pitkin County Courthouse once the multi-million renovation currently underway is complete. He wants commissioners to approve $130,000 so he can contract with a security agency to staff the incoming metal detectors and X-ray machines to be installed at the main entrance.
One of the biggest proposed expenses in 2020 is $6 million for a new operations center at the county’s Solid Waste Center. Coupled with another $950,000 for a wood grinder, the two upgrades will allow the facility to recycle and compost more construction and demolition debris that ends up taking a major percentage of the space at the landfill, Peacock said.
County officials hope to install solar panels at the new facility that will offset 100% of the energy use, he said.
Another large expense next year is $3.4 million for road maintenance. The county plans to spend about $12 million on road maintenance over five years, though none of that is for upgrades or improvements, Peacock said. Further, that level of road maintenance is not sustainable past the five-year mark without other funding sources, he said.
Commissioners also are being asked to approve another $1.43 million for the Basalt whitewater park project. Peacock said the money will be spent on building amenities around the river “that encourage responsible use.”
In addition to the five new sheriff’s deputies, the Community Development Department wants to hire another full-time employee and two part-time seasonal employees, the landfill wants another full-time employee and the library is asking for two full-time employees. The Public Health Department also wants to add two full-time employees, though those are contingent on the tobacco tax passing in November.
Commissioner Patti Clapper said she plans to carefully scrutinize hiring more employees on to the county’s payroll.
“I’m greatly concerned about adding (full-time employees) into the budget,” she said.
And speaking of county employees, Peacock and his staff proposed a 3% wage hike for county employees, 1.5% more for merit bonuses and another 1% match for retirement planning.
The county has also tried in recent years to emphasize the creation of more affordable housing. For next year, officials want to spend $450,000 to continue planning efforts at Phillips Trailer Park, which it purchased in January 2018, another $350,000 for affordable housing acquisitions and another $300,000 for an employee housing program. That’s all in addition to a $404,700 contribution to the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority.
Members of the valley’s Jewish community gathered at the Albright Pavilion at Aspen Meadows Thursday for their second annual menorah lighting ceremony to celebrate and acknowledge the first day of Hanukkah.