State worker in Aspen pays price for county’s ‘message’
ASPEN – The Pitkin County commissioners decided last week they wanted to send a message to the state government in Denver about funding issues.
Instead, all they have done is take about $1,400 worth of an annual benefit out of the pocket of a lower-level state employee living in Glenwood Springs and working in Aspen.
The commissioners directed their staff last week to stop buying summer and winter bus passes for state government employees in the Pitkin County Court Clerk’s office in Aspen. The county has provided the perk for at least a decade. But the commissioners decided last week they needed to end the benefit in these austere economic times.
“I don’t see that this is our responsibility at all,” said commission chairman George Newman. Commissioners Rachel Richards, Jack Hatfield, Michael Owsley and Patti Clapper agreed with little debate.
The commissioners groused that the state government passes down numerous unfunded mandates to the counties. They said it was time they ended the voluntary benefit to the state of providing bus passes for court workers, no matter how small the dollar amount involved.
The state requires counties to provide space free of charge for a court clerk’s office. They are essentially the administrators for the court system, and the office and county government enjoy a close working relationship. The county provides the bus passes. The clerk’s office waives filing fees for major litigation, which can be up to $224 per case.
Only one worker in the court clerk’s office currently takes up Pitkin County’s offer of a bus pass. Paulette Durica, a court judicial assistant, lives in Glenwood Springs and works in Aspen. She said she rides the bus for a number of reasons – to support mass transit and the environment; to reduce expenses of driving a personal vehicle; and to ease the tension of the commute. Durica uses the bus pass five days a week.
“It’s very valuable to me,” she said.
The county had offered court workers summer and winter passes, good for unlimited travel. The winter pass was $661 for 2009-2010, according to the Roaring Fork Transportation Agency. The summer pass was $734 last year.
Removing the pass will force Durica to pay $1,395 out of pocket for a benefit that helped to recruit her to the Aspen office. She used to work in the Eagle County Court Clerk’s office, which required her to drive a personal vehicle from Glenwood Springs to Eagle.
She transferred to Aspen last June, in part because the bus pass was available. Removing the benefit, she said, “is an anti-incentive to work here.”
“I might appeal it. I don’t know,” Durica said.
The county commissioners’ efforts to make a statement on funding issues isn’t likely to shake Gov. Bill Ritter or rattle the halls of the state Capitol. It’s more likely to go unnoticed – by everyone but Durica.
“To direct it to me seems a little bizarre,” she said. “I’m in the trenches. I don’t think hitting me affects any of the higher-ups.”
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