District Attorney Thom LeDoux charged at the November 22nd public hearing on Fremont County’s 2017 proposed budget that it’s the Board of Commissioners responsibility to adequately fund the prosecutions in his office next year or face the reality that he will have to make cuts to service in the four county 11th Judicial District.
LeDoux laid out details of how the caseload of prosecutions in his office has doubled over the last six years. He said his office which serves Fremont, Custer, Chaffee, and Park Counties is at a breaking point. LeDoux asked the Fremont Commissioners to reconsider the county’s commitment of funding for his 2017 budget. LeDoux has asked for a 20 percent increase while the Fremont Commissioners have budgeted a 10 percent increase. LeDoux said his budget has increased an average of about 2 percent per year since he took office eight years ago, which includes a 9 percent increase last year.
The Fremont County level of funding takes into consideration the intent to replace $100,000 LeDoux says his office will lose in revenue in 2017 from providing copies to other agencies along with a 4.45 percent increase. Of the four counties, Fremont County picks up 55 percent of the total cost of funding the District Attorney’s Office.
LeDoux said Fremont County is obligated to go along with a 20 percent increase in 2017 because the other three counties have agreed to that level of an increase. Commission Chairman Ed Norden said it was his understanding that the Custer County Commissioners have since changed their mind and agreed to budget a 10 percent increase the same as Fremont. Norden noted that while the four counties have informally respected a role of one county-one vote to fund the DA over the years, Colorado law is silent about how multiple counties actually arrive at an agreement. He said giving 10 percent is still going above and beyond what any other department in the county is going to receive in 2017.
LeDoux also took the Fremont Board of Commissioners to task over the one percent increase in sales tax the voters approved three years ago for the Fremont County Sheriff. LeDoux said “If you increase the funding for the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office, then that results in increased case submissions to my office, I have to have additional resources to adequately prosecute those cases.” But Sheriff Jim Beicker countered that argument saying that the hiring of additional road deputies which might prompt an increase in the Sheriff’s cases for prosecution is just now beginning. Beicker said he’s spent the first several years of additional funding addressing jail staffing, patrol cars, and the $5 million renovation in the jail’s kitchen and laundry.
LeDoux said the Commissioners have an obligation to take some of the $3.9 million that the Sheriff continues to get from the county’s General Fund and adequately fund his office. District 2 Commissioner Debbie Bell said the Board of Commissioners pledged to the voters and the Sheriff in the election three years ago that if the sales tax was approved, the $3.9 million in General Fund dollars would not be shifted to other uses. The Board of Commissioners said if any of that money is shifted now it would have to come as a recommendation from the Sheriff.
LeDoux added, “I’m telling you, without the proposed budget, it will not last. It has come to a breaking point, just like the sheriff was at the breaking point in 2013. The district attorney’s office is at a severe breaking point, and we will be making cuts to services.”
Aside from consternation over the District Attorney’s budget, the 2017 budget hearing also brought a question from Cañon City Recreation and Park District Director Jim Hoar about the county’s reserves in the Conservation Trust Fund. Fremont County’s Conservation Trust Funds, which come from State Lottery proceeds and have restricted uses, shows reserves totaling $527,000 in 2017. Hoar wanted to know if the county has a multi-year plan for use of those dollars.
Commissioner Bell said the county does indeed have a plan for that money after having spent $80,000 to complete a designed concept plan for development of fairground facilities at Pathfinder Regional Park. Commissioner Norden added that the county’s intention with that money under the concept plan would be to first construct a multi-use events center followed by a large livestock barn. Norden said that money would hopefully be used to leverage other grant funds so actual construction could get underway in the coming years. Hoar remarked that with development of more trails taking place around eastern Fremont County he would hope some of those dollars might be used to support trail efforts.
In other business at the November 22nd meeting the commissioners:
- Adopted a new set of by-laws for the Fremont County Heritage Commission broadening the requirements for membership on the commission;
- Approved an agreement between the county and the Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience on 8-mile hill providing the new tourist attraction with multiple years of personal property tax credits based upon visitor numbers generated at the attraction;
- Adopted a resolution designating a number of roads and trails in Fremont County as part of the Pike Trail across southern Colorado where Zebulon Pike traversed over 200 years ago;
- Approved several change orders for the kitchen and laundry renovation at the Fremont County Jail;
- Approved a two lot minor subdivision for Collette Divine on 2.8 acres on the northeast corner of Grand and Willow in Lincoln Park;
- Approved a major modification for the Optional Premises medical marijuana cultivation permit for Maggie’s Farm LLC south of Rockvale. Maggie’s Farm needed approval to allow the use of 12 metal storage containers for secure drying areas for the marijuana.