7th Judicial District Attorney Dan Hotsenpiller recently gave a talk about the myriad problems confronting his office. In Part 1 of this article, the Montrose Monitor focused primarily on the increasing number of felonies and misdemeanors being charged in the 7th Judicial District, which covers the counties of Montrose, Delta, Gunnison, Ouray, San Miguel, and Hinsdale.
Now, Hotsenpiller will guide us through the complex system he must navigate to get funding. “In our budget for 2019, our total revenue is $2.9 million to run our office.” The money comes largely from the six counties served by the D.A.’s office, Hotsenpiller explained. “We get, by far, most of our money from the counties. We get at least 80% from the counties.
“Now, let’s stop for a second,” he said to the audience. “Let’s remember what I do. I enforce state criminal law, in state court, in front of state judges. Across the aisle sit state public defenders. The offenders I deal with go to state probation, or state prison, making them state funded, although not state-run, community corrections programs. But, our office is funded by the counties,” he said, shaking his head. “It makes no sense!”
With his voice gradually intensifying, Hotsenpiller explained the problem as he sees it. “It’s very different in Jefferson County, or Arapaho County. Counties that have a lot of money versus counties in rural Colorado, where we are, where the economies are not the same. We don’t have the same resources,” he pointed out. “This is a fundamental problem in Colorado. Our state is set up so that the counties bear an unfair burden of criminal justice expenses throughout the state. They’re responsible for courthouses, for sheriff’s transport, all kinds of expenses.
“But the state runs the show!” he said, passionately jabbing his finger in the air. “The state tells me what kinds of crimes I can prosecute. The state tells me how to do it. How many letters I have to send to victims…”. Hotsenpiller paused, and took a deep breath or two while gathering his thoughts. “My state money pays my salary. Those are the only state dollars we get. By law, the state has to pay the elected D.A.’s salary. That’s it!” he emphasized in a frustrated tone.
Public defenders are paid entirely by the State of Colorado, unlike assistant district attorneys, who are paid by the Judicial District.
So, the D.A.’s Office has to look for grants. “Obviously, we get a significant amount of grants; we have to,”
Hotsenpiller said. 12 percent of his budget is coming via grant money this year. “And, we have carry-over. In other words, we try very hard to save taxpayer dollars.”
The law that covers funding for judicial districts doesn’t leave much wiggle room for D.A.’s or county commissioners, according to Hotsenpiller. “First of all, it’s a ‘statutory formula’; the most important thing to know is that it’s set by statute. We don’t make it up every year.
“And, it’s based on population,” he explained. “We have to get that information from the state demographer’s office, and it’s revised annually.”
You probably won’t be surprised that Montrose County is the big dog in the District. “Montrose has about 40 percent of the people who live in the 7th Judicial District,” the D.A. said, so Montrose accounts for 40 percent ($938,000) of his budget. “Delta has around 30 (percent), Gunnison has less than 20 (percent),” and Ouray, San Miguel, and Hinsdale Counties account for the remainder.
Hotsenpiller said that contrary to rumors, the counties have been strongly supportive of the D.A.’s Office. “So if you hear somebody say that the counties won’t fund the D.A. enough, well, it’s not true.”
All of the counties operate under restraints, including that statutory formula. “It’s not just up to Montrose County,” Hotsenpiller explained. “I have get six counties to agree on every budget. And the reality is that some of those counties have had some real financial difficulties over the last six years.” He pointed out that Delta and Ouray have gone through some very hard times. “It’s not up to Montrose County to say ‘we want to give you more money.’ It doesn’t work that way.”
The counties provide office space, utilities, and various other amenities for the Judicial District.
Meanwhile, Hotsenpiller said that the D.A.’s operating expenses have decreased over the past four years. “I’m really proud of that. We’re doing more with less.”