Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A raw deal for El Paso County?

Posted By on Wed, Dec 8, 2010 at 3:58 PM

The Colorado Department of Local Governments is playing games with El Paso County commissioners over gaming impact funds, it seems.

The 4th Judicial District, which includes El Paso and Teller counties, is set to receive $232,378 in gaming funds to be used by the District Attorney's Office to prosecute crimes that arise due to gaming in Cripple Creek located in Teller County. Those include anything from DUIs to domestic violence matters.

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But the state says the district can't have the money without matching the award dollar for dollar.

"Hold the phone," Commissioner Jim Bensberg says. "There's never been a requirement for that. This money comes statutorily."

Then, commissioners learn from DA Dan May that the 1st Judicial District's Jefferson and Gilpin counties aren't required to provide a match. That district includes the gambling towns of Central City and Black Hawk.

"Why are we being singled out?" Bensberg wants to know. "These decisions are made by unelected bureaucrats. If the law needs to be changed, I'm happy to change the law; meantime, we're stuck with the statute as it is, and I'm not sure they're following the statute. If we were to accept this grant money we would also be tacitly approving another $232,000 expenses on our part that we haven't budgeted for. That's not part of the budget we will approve on Tuesday, Dec. 14."

Last year, the county almost didn't get all the money it was due from gaming, because Gov. Bill Ritter wanted to "sweep" it into the state budget to cover a shortfall, Bensberg says.

May says the gaming funds go toward paying nine salaries of people who work in divisions dedicated to sexual assault, juveniles, investigations, victim assistance programs, among others.

"When we got the letter from the state, it cut ours (allocation) in half," May says, "and it required a match from the county. We immediately called Jefferson County. It's the exact same setup. They got no cuts and they're not required to match."

Why the different treatment?

"We've asked and have not gotten a response," May says. "One of the things we asked is can we appeal this. They've told us by law, they give out 100 percent of the money. There is no additional funds to seek. The question came up if the matching funds could be my budget, and we were told it could come from my budget, which means I will have to have an additional $232,000 taken out of my budget" to provide the match.

May says his analysis shows that 4.5 percent of the cases he works are gaming-related, which is what the request was based upon.

"Because we're not being told, we just don't know their reasoning," May adds. "I gotta tell you, in years past we've always gotten the amount we asked for. It seems to be disparate treatment with what another county has gotten."

We've asked for a comment from the state. When we hear, we'll circle back.

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