Adding more employees and ramping up technology rose to the top Tuesday as El Paso County department heads lobbied for their critical needs during a 2017 budget hearing before the Board of County Commissioners.
Dan May,the 4th Judicial District Attorney, insisted that more than $60,000 be set aside to hire an information technology staffer and to refine an ongoing move by his office toward "paperless prosecution." Clerk & Recorder Chuck Broerman pushed for a new voting system that he said would reduce labor costs and replace 17-year-old voting machines. And the Director of Community Services, the county Coroner and the head of Public Works each asked for more staff.
May's need for a tech staffer comes in the wake of a March mistrial after testimony revealed prosecutors failed to turn over all the evidence against a man accused of rape. Attorneys said the error was related to a change in the methods of storing and distributing evidence. May said Tuesday that the move toward a cloud-based system and the addition of the tech employee would help his office be more efficient. The employee would cost the county about $64,000 in salary and benefits, May said.
Broerman said the lack of voting system uniformity is a problem throughout the state, noting that most counties have installed different systems and can't support each other when machines fail. He said the state has mandated that as county officials upgrade voting equipment going forward, they purchase the same systems and encourage uniformity.
Broerman said making the $767,000 upgrade in 2017 has several benefits - namely that changing systems in a non-election year will allow his staff to become experts in the new system before it is needed. The current system is designed for partisan primary elections, he said, and if Proposition 107 on the Nov. 8 ballot passes, costs for primaries that would include unaffiliated voters would increase if the upgrade is not made.
The new voting equipment could be leased for some $200,000 a year, but Broerman said buying the system is a better option.
"I would rather own the equipment," he said.
Broerman also asked the commissioners to make room in the budget for three full-time employees in the county's motor vehicle division, costing $147,696 in salaries and benefits.
Community Services Director Tim Wolken also asked for added personnel, outlining a plan to bring on four park maintenance staffers before 2020. The plan would allot $25,000 in 2017 toward that goal. Wolken also asked for money for a second parks security officer to double the security staff that patrols the 8,000-acre park system. The current officer can only provide security services about 32 percent of the time and needs help, Wolken said.
Other Community Services needs include an additional $25,000 in 2017 for parks maintenance and a plan that would give his office $750,000 per year beginning in 2019 for future projects in the Parks Master Plan. Those projects include 225 miles of new trails that would cost about $20,000 per mile, Wolken said.
Jim Reid, the county's Public Works Director, lobbied for approval of three entry-level maintenance workers and two more security officers in 2017. He said the security officers would patrol parking structures at various county facilities, including the judicial building, Centennial Hall in downtown Colorado and the Citizen's Service Center on Garden of the Gods Road.
The only department that presented Tuesday and didn't ask the commissioners for more money in 2017 was the Sheriff's Office.
"We are presenting a balanced budget today," Sheriff Bill Elder said.
Those who want to view the critical needs slide presentations that each county department leader gave Tuesday, or see the 2017 Preliminary Balanced Budget, can go to adm.elpasoco.com/BudgetAdministration/Budget/Pages/default.aspx.
The next 2017 budget hearing will be held at the Nov. 3 BOCC regular meeting when more critical needs presentations will be made. Another hearing will be Nov. 17 when the commissioners are expected to give direction to the departments before voting on the budget on Dec. 13.