A budget snafu in Las Animas County

This story out of Las Animas County, Colorado, is really disheartening. This recent news story from KRDO details the decision by County Administrator Leeann Fabec to refuse to pay any additional costs incurred by the sheriff’s department for the remainder of the year after December 15, stating that the department was over its budget by some $12,227. What this does is put sheriff Jim Casias on the hook personally for the department’s payroll, and raises the real possibility that his deputies will not get paid for the final two weeks of the year.

I haven’t found anything either way to indicate how this was resolved, this being a good week and a half after the December 15 cutoff. Some of the larger cities and towns may have their own law enforcement agencies, but what about the rest of the county? Either way, it could be a really bad deal for somebody: the residents who are without law enforcement officers for two weeks, the deputies who work with no guarantee of getting paid and who still have obligations to meet despite that, or sheriff Jim Casias being out personally for the deputies’ payroll.

I have nothing specifically against law enforcement officers working in a volunteer capacity; I do have a problem with those who have not specifically chosen to volunteer, being stuck working for free for whatever reason. The screw-up by the county’s bookkeepers who did not notice the sheriff’s department ran out of money, should not be a reason to stiff the deputies doing their jobs and expecting to be paid for them. Deputies on the payroll should be paid, the same as any other business that depends on paid employees to get the job done.

Yes, I’m taking the side of the deputies here. But I really approach this as more of a labor issue than a law enforcement issue. With a population barely into five digits (14,052 estimated in 2014), I doubt there are any major crime problems in Las Animas County. After a news report that the sheriff’s deputies may not get paid for working the last two weeks of the year, though, that’s always subject to change.

Now, I don’t fault KRDO for breaking the story, as this is in the public interest, and it was in fact their duty to break this story as soon as the facts were confirmed. This snafu is Ms. Fabec’s fault, either directly or indirectly. I’m not sure of the exact responsibilities of the county administrator, but it stands to reason that if Ms. Fabec can tell the sheriff he’s out of money, then she also had the ultimate responsibility to stay on top of it before the department actually went into the red.

I’ll be keeping an eye on this, and hope to post a follow-up with the resolution soon.