Salt Lake County Council reacts with mild sticker shock to Operation Rio Grande bill

Expenses cover range of expenses from jail beds to addiction-treatment.<br>

(Steve Griffin | Tribune file photo) Law enforcement officers from several agencies increase their presence in the Rio Grand homeless area in Salt Lake City Monday August 14, 2017.

Salt Lake County will need as much as $30 million over the next two years to fund its share of the ongoing Operation Rio Grande that since August has swept up more than 1,100 arrestees from the streets of downtown Salt Lake City.

The estimate was presented to the County Council on Tuesday by chief financial officer Darrin Casper and was the first time council members had seen any comprehensive projection of costs.

Overall, the projections pencil out to roughly $4 million in 2017; $13.6 million in 2018; and $14.7 for 2019.

The expenditures are for increased jail and drug-treatment costs along with added prosecutions and legal defense funding and other expenses.

“For me at first blush, that’s a lot of money,” Council Chairman Steve DeBry later said. “That’s more than I anticipated.”

Casper said some of the funds are already anticipated in budget projections for the next fiscal year, which will reduce the total amount the county will have to find.

For example, the spreadsheet shows about $3.7 million of the total 2018 and 2019 projected costs is already included in the County’s base budgets, thus reducing the net cost to the County for 2018 to $9.8 million.

The Utah Legislature is also expected to offset some of the county’s expenses through a reimbursement grant appropriated from its general fund. In 2018, that amount looks to be about $2.7 million, Casper said.

Casper said his conversation with Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, leaves him optimistic that the state will come through.

“They are committed and I trust that they will rally their votes and come up with the money,” Casper said.

Utah lawmakers have said the overall cost of the two-year Operation Rio Grande is expected to be $67 million.

Regardless, paying the bills will stretch the county’s resources, DeBry said. Where it will come from, is the “$600 question.”

“We have to do something, we can’t just put our heads in the sand,” he said. “We’ll need to prioritize and there may be some programs on the chopping block.”

Casper told the council he has been working with staff and program directors to come up with a plan that looks to cover most of the new funds needed for 2018. At the moment, he said, the changes appear to leave the county about $1 million short.

“Nothing is pain free,” he said, “but it’s a relatively easy fix so far.”