by Bill Knowles
TRINIDAD — The Las Animas County Commissioners, after meeting with the county’s attorney, decided they will pay sheriff’s deputies and detention officers for the second half of December. The decision will also pay for overtime through the 15th of December, including the Thanksgiving holiday.
The total payout to the sheriff’s budget from the county’s contingency fund will amount to $53,000 after billings for payroll and overtime from the sheriff’s office have been received by the county’s treasurer. This follows an approval by the county commission to transfer $12,300 from the commissioners’ budget to the sheriff’s budget during a special meeting on Dec. 29, 2015.
However the issue took a quick turn when the sheriff’s office released a statement to the press indicating a possible legal challenge to the action. County commissioners, during questioning at the Jan. 19, 2016, regular meeting, stated that as overtime for the December 2015 pay period was filed with the federal government’s Wage and Labor Board, a possible investigation of the matter could arise. “We have to pay for the overtime and wages,” Commission Chair Mack Louden said.
The commission found around $53,000 in a contingency fund within the general fund from the 2015 budget and set that aside to cover the last pay-period for December 2015. The commissioners took the responsibility to cover some of the overspending out of funds that will have to be paid back by the county.
A press release from the sheriff’s department, written with the assistance of the Colorado State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police and the Southern Colorado Fraternal Order of Police; Lodge 51, also threatened a lawsuit. It referenced the Las Animas County Sheriff’s Office Budget Issues and was dated Jan. 3, 2015 (the date should have been Jan. 3, 2016).
In the document, the sheriff’s office disputes the $53,000 total in overtime expenditures the county alleges, stating that the real number is closer to $7,000 for 2015. The county commission has claimed that the sheriff’s office is eight percent over budget for overtime in 2015. It also states the resolution passed on Dec. 29, 2015, stopping both compensatory pay and overtime pay, was illegal.
The resolution however stopped wages for Dec. 16 through Dec. 31, 2015, including holiday pay, not for the entire month of December, as the press release alleges.
Money and Politics
The reversal by the county commission however, will allow the sheriff’s staff and deputies to be paid for the Thanksgiving holiday as well. Christmas and New Year holiday pay and overtime pay will also be covered as the sheriff’s office remits vouchers to the county. Even with this help, the sheriff’s office will still be about $100,000 to $150,000 short for 2015.
The county will close out the books on the 2015 budget by the end of January 2016 or February 2016, after all the accounts payable billings have been processed.
As for a political agenda being worked to impede the run by Sheriff James Casias for Colorado Senate District 35, county administrator Leeann Fabec told the World Journal that’s not what’s happening. “A year ago, in December 2014, we sent him a memo for the first time saying ‘this budget year (2015) is tight. Your allocation is $1.7 million, you cannot overspend your budget. If you overspend your budget the county cannot, by law, backfill you. This was before he even announced he was running for anything. This has nothing to do with him running for office.”
In July 2015, the county sent the sheriff another letter alerting him that he was already running over budget for the first six months of the year. “He was notified that he had to start cutting his expenditures and should institute cost cutting procedures,” said Fabec. He never took the steps asked for by the county to contain his expenditures.
He was also made aware that overspending his budget is in violation of Colorado budget law which states in §29-1-110 that… ‘no officer, employee, or other spending agency shall expend any money or incur any liability, or enter into any contract which, by its terms, involves the expenditures of money in excess of the amount appropriated.’ The sheriff said he would take care of the situation.
The stresses on the county budget will only increase through 2016 with 2017 becoming worse as property valuations continue to fall. Already the county has seen a decrease in its mill levy from 9.357 percent in 2015 to 8.71 percent for 2016. The 2016 valuations are what set the amounts collected by the county for the 2017 budget.
As funds from the contingency are used to cover the over expenditures from the sheriff’s office, the county will have to approve their use by taking action and voting on them.
“Here’s what the county did by using the contingency fund,” county attorney Dixie Newnam said. “If you had a brother that took out a loan and was unable to pay it back and he asked you to help, your choices would be to either give him the money to pay off the loan or you could step up and pay the loan for him. That’s what the commissioners did. They took the responsibility to pay the wages and overtime for the sheriff’s office.”
LAC OKs Pay for Sheriff’s Deputies/Detention Officers
by Bill Knowles