Effort to cut funding for DA’s office may be headed off by Grand County decision | SkyHiNews.com

Effort to cut funding for DA’s office may be headed off by Grand County decision

Drew Munro
Sky-Hi Daily News
Grand County, Colorado
Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi Daily News
ALL | Sky-Hi Daily News

Grand County commissioners have rejected a request by Routt County commissioners to reduce the personnel budget of the 14th Judicial District Attorney’s Office by 10 percent.

The decision may end Routt’s attempt to cut the DA’s personnel budget, though other portions of the office’s budget may still be vulnerable.

“It is our decision not to reduce the amount we have budgeted in 2009,” said Grand County Manager Lurline Underbrink Curran.

She said the decision was based on advice of the county attorney and applies to all aspects of the DA’s budget. Grand County commissioners sent Routt County commissioners a letter about their decision on Friday, April 24, she said.

In an April 15 letter to Grand County commissioners, Routt County commissioners made the request in accordance with 10 percent cuts they have made in all county department personnel budgets to help offset a projected $2.2 million deficit for 2009.

District Attorney Elizabeth Oldham said Monday she had not yet met with Moffat County commissioners to discuss the matter.

“The way I read the statute … is all three counties have to agree,” she said of decisions regarding the DA’s personnel budget. Thus with Grand County declining to make the proposed cuts, the personnel budget likely will remain intact.

Oldham said she’s not certain that is the case with respect to her office’s operating budget.

“I think Routt County at that point (if its request is rejected) … is probably going to look at other things within our budget (to cut),” she said.

The three-county DA’s office is staffed by nine attorneys (not including the DA), two investigators, nine staff members and one diversion officer, Oldham said. She said the staffing level has not changed since she took office.

A victim/witness coordinator position remains unfilled, she said, but is being covered temporarily by another staffer.

Lowest common denominator

“It puts me in a crunch, because I feel in some ways we are understaffed,” she said of the proposed cuts or the possibility that Routt may try to cut operating expenses. “I would do everything in my power not to cut positions.”

Nevertheless, Oldham said she understands Routt’s problem.

“They are in dire straits,” she said. “Routt County is experiencing serious budget problems.”

That raises a perennial issue for district attorneys in Colorado.

DA’s employees are not officially classified as state employees “and not quite county employees,” she said. “So we belong to no one, but we belong to everyone.”

The arrangement makes situations such as this difficult to resolve, particularly when oftentimes county commissioners are sympathetic to the plight of other commissioners.

“So what ends up happening, is we always get the lowest (budgeting capability) of the three counties,” Oldham said.

Complex cases

Criminal caseloads know no such restrictions, however, and Oldham notes that her office finds itself in the unusual position of prosecuting at least one death case in each of the district’s counties.

One of those cases, a 2001 murder case that originated in Routt County, is being tried in Fort Collins. The change of venue creates expenses for the office as all witnesses and personnel involved in the case must be transported to and housed in Fort Collins during the trial.

Moreover, Oldham said her office is coping with increasingly complex cases in general.

In Moffat County, for instance, sexual assault cases “have gone through the roof,” she said.

” Drew can be reached at (970) 887-3334 ext. 19610 or at dmunro@skyhidailynews.com

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