Jefferson County faces major financial woes, sheriff warns of safety issues

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. -- The sheriff of Colorado’s fourth-most populous county says public safety will be at risk as his department faces a looming financial crisis. Jefferson County is dealing with a major budget shortfall. County commissioners are finding it difficult to turn the mess around.

If the current JeffCo budget proposal is approved, Sheriff Jeff Shrader says he will need to find a way to do without $10 million -- about 10 percent of his current budget. Shrader says current cuts proposed to county commissioners would result in 400 to 600 fewer beds at the county jail.

“There’s going to have to be a discussion with the district attorney’s office, and in particular, the judges who are on the bench, in making decisions about bonds,” Shrader said.

Shrader also says the cuts would mean fewer deputies, through attrition, over the years.

But JeffCo’s current money woes go well beyond the sheriff’s office. Commissioner Casey Tighe says at issue is statewide taxpayer protection limiting the amount local governments collect on property taxes.

“Our property values have been increasing,” Tighe said. “We would be able to collect more tax revenue based upon the increasing property taxes, but TABOR limits how fast the revenue can grow.”

TABOR, or the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, prohibits raising taxes without voter approval.

JeffCo’s revenue isn’t growing nearly as fast as the county itself. Tighe and his colleagues are preparing to go before the voters to appeal for relief on those taxpayer protections. Otherwise, major cuts across the board are nearly guaranteed.

“At the end of the day, each elected official is going to have to look at how they can meet the budget requirements,” Tighe said.

Sheriff Shrader says commissioners need to give more priority to law enforcement.

“I couldn’t agree more with the sheriff,” Tighe said. “Public safety is a priority.”

But Tighe also says 67 percent of the county’s general fund already goes to public safety. Unless voters are willing to get on board, he says all of county government will feel a painful pinch.

Tighe says voters in most of Colorado’s counties have already allowed for taxpayer protection relief. JeffCo officials hope Jefferson County will be the next.

On May 8, county commissioners will be holding a telephone town hall as officials prepare to ask the public for relief.

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