Sheriff sticks to his guns: No major cuts for El Jebel

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Eagle County Sheriff Joe Hoy

EL JEBEL – Eagle County Sheriff Joe Hoy is sticking to his guns when it comes to providing service for Basalt and El Jebel.

The sheriff said he doesn’t anticipate changing the level of service to the Roaring Fork Valley sliver of Eagle County despite the government’s goal to pare $5 million from its 2011 budget. The sheriff’s office alone has been asked by the county commissioners to reduce its budget by about $2 million.

Hoy, a Republican who is seeking re-election this year, has enlisted a citizens’ financial advisory committee to help his department establish priorities and identify where cuts can be made.

“El Jebel was not on any list for service elimination or service reduction,” Hoy said. “El Jebel was never at the heart of any discussion.”

Word has circulated in the Roaring Fork Valley that the number of patrol deputies could be reduced. Hoy is trying to dispel what he labeled unfounded rumors. He will meet with midvalley residents on Monday at 6:30 p.m. in the Eagle County government building adjacent to Crown Mountain Park.

The sheriff’s office will achieve a large portion of its reductions by not filling positions that come open, Hoy said. He expects the department to be reduced by 12 positions from its height earlier this decade by not filling positions in the jail, administration and patrol. “We have really trimmed the staff,” he said.

The department is facing a hiring freeze, but the one exception has been for patrol in the Roaring Fork Valley. Hoy said he hired a deputy for an opening about two weeks ago.

He said he will use Monday’s meeting to dispel rumors about service cuts and talk about the challenges the sheriff’s office faces in the future. So far, his senior staff and the citizen advisors have cut the sheriff’s budget by about $1.5 million to $1.6 million. He is meeting with the county commissioners on Tuesday to discuss his progress and if he needs to make further reductions.

County Manager Keith Montag said Eagle County is determined to make cuts for 2011 even though the biggest loss in revenues isn’t expected until 2012. A property reassessment is required across the state in 2012 that will reflect the decrease in property values. That will reduce property tax collections.

Montag said the county estimated its property tax revenues will fall 30 percent based on what the county assessor anticipates in overall property value changes. The value assigned to property by the government lags behind current market conditions; current valuations reflect property values from the pre-recession highs. The reappraisal of 2011 – which will effect taxes in 2012 – will reflect the values over an 18-month period from Jan. 1, 2009 through June 30, 2010.

Eagle County has already experienced a 27 percent drop in sales tax revenues from the level in 2008. It expects sales taxes to be flat in 2011, then gradually increasing starting the following year.

Revenues from permits and fees, including development, are down and will remain flat in 2011. Interest income has taken “a nosedive,” Montag said. Meanwhile, the cost of business is going up.

Those assumption lead to a grim budget outlook. “We’ve got a $5 million gap that we’re trying to make up,” Montag said.

While that gap really won’t show up until fiscal 2012, the county wants to adjust in 2011 rather than wait until the pressure is really on. Montag credited the county’s department heads with make professional recommendations on budget cuts.

The county had an amended budget of $42.6 million for its general fund in 2009. The budget is $36.6 million this year. The projected budget is $31.5 to $32 million for next year. That’s a decrease of about 25 percent over a two-year period.

The key to the cuts, Montag said, it to create a foundation that is sustainable for the next decade or so.