Sheriff’s office in GarCo saves $2.1 million

The Garfield County Sheriff’s Department came in $2.1 million under budget last year, and the savings will help shore up the county’s finances for the lean times that lie ahead.

The Sheriff’s Department said in a news release that measures taken under the leadership of Sheriff Lou Vallario enabled the office to spend 12 percent less than the $17.5 million that was budgeted for last year.

Savings came from areas such as more use of in-house training where possible, minimizing of overtime and fine-tuning of competitive bidding procedures for buying equipment and inmate meals.

Sheriff’s Department spokesman Phil Strouse said the department responded to 26,099 incidents last year, up from 24,797 in 2008. Jail bookings increased from 2,498 to 2,904 over the same period.

County manager Ed Green said the Sheriff’s Department’s savings will go back into the county’s general fund. Over the last decade or so, county commissioners have taken advantage of good economic times and strong energy development revenues to boost that fund’s balance to $84 million. Green said commissioners didn’t want the county ending up in the same dire financial condition as it did after the oil shale bust in the 1980s.

“They wanted to make sure that the county had funds to survive another downturn, and lo and behold, we’ve got one,” he said.

Strong natural gas production in 2008 largely was responsible for the county’s property tax revenues surging to $71 million this year, up from $49 million a year earlier.

However, thanks to last year’s drilling slowdown and lower gas prices that affect valuation, the county expects those revenues to plummet to possibly little more than $30 million next year, when taxes will be paid on 2009 gas production.

Green said the savings the county built up should leave it financially in good shape for the next five years, but any big-ticket construction projects seriously would affect the fund balance.

One such project under consideration is a second county jail to be built in Rifle. But if the economic slowdown eventually results in lower inmate numbers, that might help allow for that project to be delayed, Green said.

So far this year, the jail has recorded 408 bookings, Strouse said. The jail had 105 inmates as of midweek, but that figure fluctuates almost daily, he said. The jail has a capacity of about 196 inmates, Green said.


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