For the past eight years, Archuleta County officials have been spending money like a "drunken sailor," to use the words of a former county employee, taking in less revenue than they have spent. Although budgets have been slashed and jobs eliminated, the county’s troubles aren’t over yet – its treasurer, Lois Baker, now faces misdemeanor charges for mismanaging county funds.
The deficit spending finally caught up to the county last year. Officials had to slash nearly $6 million from their $16 million budget and cut 60 jobs out of the workforce of 217. County Administrator Bob Campbell said the county had failed to make adjustments in expenditures or staffing levels when revenues did not cover expenses. Plus, there were missing funds from dedicated accounts, such as for road and bridge projects. In response, county commissioners hired a financial management firm to conduct a forensic audit.
Last month the District Attorney’s Office filed two misdemeanor charges against Baker, who faces fines between $50 and $500 and possible removal from office. The Durango Herald reported that she is suspected of transferring funds without going before the Archuleta County Board of Commissioners for approval and of intermixing funding accounts.
The District Attorney’s Office has not revealed whether its investigation into the county’s financial problems has been completed or if more county officials will face charges concerning the county’s financial problems.
Archuleta County in southwest Colorado has few resources for revenue, but a lot of demand for services. Some of the problems stem from rapid growth. The county’s population has hit 12,500, a jump of over 17 percent since 2000, making it one of the fastest-growing counties in the state. Owners of second homes, accounting for over 59 percent of the available property, have been flooding into the area while major tax revenue commerce has been trickling in. Three national forests cover over 50 percent of the county, which also includes the Southern Ute Indian Reservation.