$165 million budget OK'd

By Nick Bonham, The Pueblo Chieftain, Colo.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Dec. 12--Pueblo County commissioners approved a $165 million budget for 2014 after lengthy discussion on Wednesday.

Commissioners unanimously approved the budget but recorded split votes on two related financial measures.

The budget was approved after lengthy, often heated discussion that involved a historic look at the county's overall debt, the future of the new judicial building, rising costs in medical insurance, shrinking the county's workforce and overall reserves.

The split votes came on an amendment that temporarily removed more than $1.2 million from the 2014

budget designated for opening the new judicial building, and a resolution to shrink the county staff next year -- through attrition -- by 4? percent.

Commission Chairman Terry Hart introduced the amendment, which was supported by Commissioner Liane "Buffie" McFadyen. Commissioner Sal Pace voted against it.

Hart wanted those funds moved from a line item to reserves because a date hasn't been officially set to open the $58 million building. The focus date is July 1.

"It means we have not green-lighted anything at this point. I fear if we leave it in that line item it allows expenditures to immediately occur on Jan. 1," Hart said.

"I very much want to open that building. It's going to be a beautiful asset to the community.

But until we have an assurance of financial stability for this government, I'm not going to make a decision to jeopardize that stability. I do not have that comfort level yet."

That financial move meant a stall in hiring 14 new sheriff deputies to staff the larger judicial building.

McFadyen supported the amendment, saying she'd rather see a cost savings from shrinking the workforce through attrition before the building is opened.

"I don't know how we can open the building unless we have the cost savings in our budget," she said.

Pace opposed the measure, saying that it was incumbent on the county to open the building considering the community investment.

"As I said a couple weeks ago, taxpayers have invested over $100 million and whatever people's personal opinions are, we owe it to the taxpayers to open it."

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Pace brought the attrition resolution up for consideration. It passed on a 2-1 vote, opposed by McFadyen.

The resolution asks for a written plan from all department heads and elected officials on how to cut 47 positions next year.

McFadyen's concern centered on a few issues -- efforts to shrink staff and the seeming contradiction of hiring employees to staff the judicial building, increased responsibilities for maintaining additional properties and an increase of exit costs associated with retirements.

"I'll be voting no because 47 vacancies is more ambitious than what we can accomplish in 2014," McFadyen said.

Pace said the plan is doable because last year, the county turned over more than 80 non grantfunded positions.

"This number isn't an exact number for balancing the budget.

I think it's a good plan.

We're not forcing anything down anyone's throat. We're just asking for their help," Pace said.

Commissioners have held more than 80 budget meetings this year and have made it known that the county's debt, tied largely to the $111 million it'll cost to pay off the judicial building over the next three decades, will impact 2014 and future budgets.

But with a 7 percent increase in medical insurance next year, commissioners approved a 1.7 percent cost of living increase for employees to help offset that cost.

The increase totals $620,000.

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(c)2013 The Pueblo Chieftain (Pueblo, Colo.)

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