Sheriff takes budget ‘flaws’ to new officials

Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey complained publicly in December about the budget constraints on his department, which he attributed to an accounting strategy that doesn’t reflect operational realities in his office.

With two new members of the Board of County Commissioners, and the dismissal of the county administrator who oversaw the previous budgeting process, Hilkey hopes his concerns will receive fresh scrutiny this year.

“I don’t know whether we’ll get any relief (with our budget) this year, but I’m glad to continue to have that conversation because I think there are some serious flaws in that budget plan,” Hilkey said last week.

In 2011, the county decided to include “vacancy savings” — perceived savings from open positions not being filled — in the budgets for 2012 and 2013 instead of trying to cut an additional $1.3 million.

At a public meeting in December, before the previous board, Hilkey called the vacancy savings attributed to his department an “artificial amount,” and that year over year, the number is increasingly inflated. The estimated savings amount gets skimmed off the top of his budget right from the start.

“I don’t like the idea of having to continue to play this shell game, and try to figure out how to dip into my operating and capital because I have to make this work,” Hilkey said Dec. 10.

That day, commissioners adopted the 2013 budget despite Hilkey’s concerns, though then-Commissioner Janet Rowland voted against the budget based on his comments.

With new commissioners Rose Pugliese and John Justman, the subject of relying on vacancy savings to determine budgets appears up for review.

Hilkey said he’s raised the issue directly with the new board.

Justman said he recently revisited the topic with Hilkey when they met at an orientation session. Both Justman and Pugliese have been on a frenetic tour of county departments since their swearing-in Jan. 8.

“We’re going to be meeting with the department heads, going through the budgets to get their take on where they’re at,” Justman said. “I’m still in the learning process.”

He did say specific budget discussions, which could include a fresh look at the vacancy savings technique, could happen as early as next month.


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