The Saratoga Sun -

County Attorney, Coroner may feel budget sting

 


At the Carbon County Board of Commissioners meeting on Monday, officials from the County Attorney’s office and the Coroner’s office cited shrinking budgets and increasing workloads as a potential problem for the offices in the upcoming year.

Ashley Davis of the County Attorney’s Office and Carbon County Coroner Paul Zamora spelled out the problems facing the county and the offices, and what services may be impacted by recent budget cuts by the county council.

Davis said that a 21.8 percent cut in this year’s budget, combined with loss of staff due to attrition and an increasing workload have placed the county attorney’s office under a great deal of strain, and the office may have to look at cutbacks in services.

Davis stressed that in Wyoming counties where there is not a prosecutor’s office, the county attorney fulfills the role of representing the county’s legal interests as well as prosecuting criminal cases in the county.

The office has been asked to cut 21.8 percent—approximately $140,000—of its budget from last year, Davis said. Much of that cut was absorbed after one attorney and one assistant left the office. Those positions were not filled, saving the office about $104,000. However, the other $36,000 to cut was difficult to come up with.

In order to reduce workload on the now smaller staff and further save money, Davis said the office had considered no longer billing for discovery, saying that the amount billed for discovery was not sufficient to cover the expense.

The office had also considered no longer handling probation revocations or orders to show cause, she said. That may mean that persons who have court orders to be enforced against another person would no longer be able to rely on the County Attorney to issue an order to show cause if that order were ignored.

Commissioner Lindy Glode said such actions would have a “huge impact to victims.”

Davis also noted that pay cuts were being implemented, including County Attorney Cal Rerucha taking a $10,000 per year pay cut in his own salary, and that while some employees would receive extra time off to make up for reduced pay, the office still faced the issue of asking employees to do more work for less pay.

She also noted that the numbers of cases worked by the staff of the County Attorney’s office had increased, saying the office had 1,000 more circuit court cases it needed to handle, as well as 45 more district court cases.

Investigations may also suffer, she said. “We like to have someone present at the coroner’s office anytime there is an indication of criminal activity,” she said, adding that the office no longer has staff to send an attorney to a coroner’s inquest.

Zamora, the county coroner, said his office itself is stretched very thin as well, noting that this year’s budget only leaves about $26,000 for coroner’s investigations once salaries are paid, adding that like the County Attorney’s office, the Coroner’s office has seen significant increases in workload over the last several years.

In 2011, the coroner’s office spent $18,000 in autopsy investigation expenses. By last year, the amount had ballooned to $39,000 after averaging around $25,000 per year for the last five years.

When asked why the cost for investigating deaths in the county have increased so markedly, Zamora replied, “I’ll be honest; we have a drug problem in Carbon County.”

The costs of investigating drug overdoses have contributed significantly to the overhead of running the Coroner’s office, he said.

The commissioners decided to leave funding for the coroner’s office at the prescribed level, saying that any increases in the budget would be at the expense of other services. The board, Zamora was told, would make amended budgets should the coroner’s office need additional funds.

The next meeting of the Carbon County Board of Commissioners will be 9 a.m., July 5 at the county courthouse.

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