Two of three counties support DA raises | AspenTimes.com

Two of three counties support DA raises

District Attorney Sherry Caloia wants to give a 10 percent raise to the experienced prosecutors in her office.

Garfield County commissioners approved the raise during a budget meeting Monday. Pitkin County commissioners also indicated a willingness Tuesday to go along with the plan. Rio Blanco County commissioners, however, have balked at the raise and "are quite unhappy with the increase," Caloia said.

And since the three counties — which make up the 9th Judicial District — fund the District Attorney's Office, they must all agree or there is no budget, according to state statute.

That state statute says counties fund the DA's office based on population. Those estimated population numbers for 2016 indicate that Garfield County's share of the DA budget would be a little more than $2.2 million, Pitkin County's would be $644,524 and Rio Blanco's would be $241,435.

Compared with 2015, that means Garfield County would pay $102,377 more this year, a 4.87 percent increase, while Pitkin's share would rise 9.27 percent or $54,656, and Rio Blanco would pay $11,350 more, a 4.93 percent increase.

The DA's total budget of around $3.2 million — which includes state and other contributions — represents a 5.46 percent increase over 2015, according to figures supplied by Caloia's office.

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Caloia said that while she doesn't have a problem recruiting new lawyers out of law school, she does have a problem retaining lawyers with five or more years of experience. Such attorneys can make as much as 20 percent more money elsewhere, she said.

Rio Blanco commissioners are uncomfortable with increasing DA salaries because they can't provide raises to their own employees, Caloia said. Decreasing oil and gas revenues in Rio Blanco County are causing financial issues.

However, she said they have indicated they would be OK with providing lawyers a five percent pay increase — a difference of about $5,000 over the 10 percent figure.

Pitkin County Commissioner Patti Clapper wondered if Pitkin County and Garfield County could simply split the $5,000 difference and fund the raises. But Commissioner George Neuman didn't like that idea.

"I have a hard time subsidizing Rio Blanco County," he said. "The precedent down the road could be a can or worms, and I'm not supportive of that."

Commissioner Rachel Richards said she believes the retention of experienced attorneys is important and doesn't want the office's quality to be "dragged down to the lowest common denominator." She said the state should be more responsible for funding the DA's office and complained that the obligation "has been transferred all the way to counties."

Richards said she wouldn't support only a five percent increase and suggested that perhaps the attorneys that work in Rio Blanco County should be paid less.

"You get what you pay for," she said.

Caloia acknowledged that she could do that but probably won't.

"I'm already punishing someone to go up there four days a week," she said. "I can't get anyone to live up there."

Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock said that staff from all three counties can try to come to an agreement that deviates from the state statute formula to allow the raises and bring that back to commissioners.

Pitkin County commissioners won't officially approve the DA's share of the county budget until December.

jauslander@aspentimes.com