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Las Animas Sheriff’s Office protest against county commissioners

TRINIDAD — Facing a packed spectators gallery, the Las Animas County Commission on Tuesday, December 29, voted 3-0 to transfer over $12 thousand from the commissioner’s budget to the budget of the sheriff’s office in an effort to help the department cover expenditures for the second half of December, and in the process initiated a silent protest from the gallery. A collaboration between EMS and the sheriff’s deputies comprised most of the spectators in the gallery. They were attending the special meeting to show support for the sheriff’s office and 14-year veteran sheriff, James Casias. Their support was in the form of a backs-turned silent protest aimed at the county commissioners. The protestors felt the commissioners should’ve looked harder to find funds to cover the shortfall of around $100,000, a total that includes salaries for both the sheriff’s office and detention workers. Sergeant Reynaldo Santistevan with the sheriff’s office and sheriff’s deputy Matthew Morano said they felt the commission hadn’t been up front with revenues that came to them from outside security work the deputies perform, which amounts to around

$53,000, an amount not yet collected by the county. “Their decision was to not pay us for two and a half weeks work,” Santistevan said. “We won’t receive a pay check until January 15.” According to Sheriff Casias, the two most expensive items in his budget are vehicular maintenance and overtime pay for his deputies. “We don’t know when we will get called,” Casias said. “Recently we’ve had the two kids that drowned and a home invasion. Those calls involved overtime.” Speaking about the county budget, Morano said it didn’t reflect a line item for overtime. “They have nothing for overtime appropriated for us.” However when setting up the 2015 county budget, each elected official is required to present a proposed budget for their department to the commissioners. That proposed budget should reflect overtime in the salaries line of the proposed budget. The sheriff’s office provides policing for the largest county in the state, about 5,000 square miles. Wear and tear on the department’s vehicles reflect the ruggedness of the mostly rural county. When property valuations are presented to the county commission by the assessor for the following year’s budget — for example the 2015 budget was based on valuations from 2014 — the commission and staff make the appropriations, in a lump sum, to each budgeting office, including the sheriff’s. “Colorado budget law 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,’” according to a press release from the county commission read by county administrator Leeann Fabec into the meeting record. Other county offices headed up by elected officials were approached by the county commission through the county administrator’s office, seeking any funds they might have available to transfer to the sheriff’s office. All but one, the county assessor’s office, stated they did not have funds on hand. The excess funds the assessor’s office show have been carried over to the 2016 budget to pay for computer upgrades the assessor started in 2015. So, according to Colorado law and the way funds were appropriated to each budgeted department within the county government, the elected officials in charge of the departments are responsible for those funds and how they are spent. Even if a line item for a certain expenditure isn’t shown in a budget, that item may appear under a different account item. Overtime pay is folded into the line item total for salaries.