GOLDEN, Colo. -– The Jefferson County Sheriff says that if county commissioners require all county departments to cut 7% of their spending, he will be forced to let inmates serving time out of jail early and reduce space in his jail by 600 beds.
"I have not faced anything like this or seen it in my career, at least in Jefferson County," Sheriff Jeff Shrader told Contact7 Investigates this week. “It could affect crime rates."
The county is facing a $16 million shortfall.
It's not that the county can't collect enough money, County Commissioner Casey Tighe says.
The state's Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, called TABOR, states even though more homes and businesses are going up in the county and they generate tax revenue, the county is forbidden from spending all that new money.
TABOR states spending limits must go up slowly, and that can result in more demand faster than the spending limit increases, Tighe said. That is what has occurred in Jefferson County, he said.
To meet the proposed 7% cut, Shrader plans to cut about 20 investigative and support positions. The biggest savings will come from shutting down the 600 beds and the 88-95 staff needed to run them. His jail currently holds roughly 1,400 people.
He says the cuts mean deputies and area police won't be able to put people in jail they usually would have, had there been more bed space.
The Sheriff is clear that violent suspects, such as domestic violence suspects and murders, will still be held in jail, but, for example, someone who has stolen money and arrested for theft might not be.
To meet the number of reduced beds, the sheriff also expects to release inmates early.
"We're going to have to rely on a standing chief judge's order that gives the sheriff the authority to release people when they have served 50-percent of their sentence," Shrader said. “I think it's going to have a spillover effect into the Denver metro area. I think it's significant.”
The Sheriff said he would first release inmates more near the end of their sentence.
Commissioner Tighe said one solution the county commissioners should consider is asking the voters to ease the TABOR spending cap.
He notes that voters could be assured the move would still keep taxes within what voters already authorized.
Tighe said commissioners could vote to place that question on the ballot this November or push it further into the future. He said he expects that decision to be made with the next two months.
The county has worked to save taxpayers money, county spokeswoman Julie Story said, by recycling 100% of used asphalt. That has saved the county $350,000 each year.
The county has also increased energy efficiency which has helped save $500,000 a year, she said.