Sheriff to slash jobs

Mesa County sheriff’s deputy Ben Carnes speaks to a driver who pulled over for him in a construction zone along on Interstate 70 Business Loop. Sheriff Stan Hilkey said Friday he will cut the department’s budget by about 8 percent for 2011 and personnel by about 10 percent - although he hopes some people who are laid off can be hired back to fill vacant positions.

The Mesa County Sheriff’s Department will lay off 27 employees by the end of the year, a byproduct of a sagging county budget that Sheriff Stan Hilkey said could lead to reduced services and longer response times.

Hilkey will slash the Sheriff’s Department’s $23.8 million 2010 budget by a little more than $2 million next year, with $1.3 million coming from personnel expenditures and $700,000 from operational spending.

Acting County Administrator Stefani Conley asked each department to cut expenditures to compensate for a projected $12 million loss in revenue in 2011. The Sheriff’s Department has the largest budget of any county agency and will take the biggest hit dollarwise.

Hilkey declined to go into more detail about the layoffs, saying he’s still in the process of notifying employees who will be affected. But he said the layoffs will span all three areas of the department — law operations, jail operations and support services — and accompany seven demotions. The 27 employees who will lose their jobs account for about 10 percent of the department’s work force.

The sting of the job losses could be eased if Hilkey is able to carry out his plan to hire back 12 of the 27 laid-off employees to fill existing vacancies.

Hilkey said while he hopes he has put together a plan that “for the most part is invisible to the public,” he acknowledged the layoffs will result in fewer deputies on the street at any given time and residents possibly waiting longer when they call for help or want to file a report.

And, he added, “It’s not out of the realm of possibility where we start to look at what do we respond to and what do we not.”

Hilkey and Undersheriff Rebecca Spiess have spent the past several weeks figuring out how to trim the budget. He said they asked employees for ideas while attempting to avoid radically changing the structure of the department.

The sheriff said he couldn’t avoid laying off employees, noting that in addition to the $700,000 operational reduction in 2011, he sliced $565,000 earlier this year and $1.1 million in 2009. Those cuts affected travel, training, equipment and supplies.

He said he didn’t consider reducing the work week, pay cuts or furloughs because he said the Sheriff’s Department has struggled to keep up with other law-enforcement agencies in terms of employee compensation. The department struggled with a 15 to 20 percent employee vacancy rate until a few years ago, when its pay scale caught up to the Grand Junction Police Department, according to Hilkey. At that point, he said, the turnover rate dropped to 3 or 4 percent.

Hilkey said the layoffs will drop the department’s staffing level from 1.04 full-time deputies per 1,000 citizens to 0.88. He said that level is less than half of the Grand Junction Police Department ratio of 2.0. The Department of Justice recommends a ratio of 1.6 to 2.0 for law-enforcement agencies, he said.


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