E A G L E, Colo., Oct. 6, 2003 -- Poor little Eagle County, Colo., it turns out, isn't poor at all.
In fact, it's one of the wealthiest counties in the country, meaning it has the financial reserves to handle the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case, no matter how long a trial might go, according to county officials.
As one of the highest-paid stars in basketball, Bryant is in a position to hire the best lawyers, investigators, and expert witnesses money can buy.
But county officials say they have the resources needed to handle a long trial.
"We are not going to be wiped out by this," said Eagle County administrator and budget officer Jack Ingstad. "We have between $45 [million] and $50 million in reserves."
Tom Stone, a county commissioner, says the sheriff and the district attorney have plenty of money to see the case through. "We have an assessed valuation that's larger than most developing countries throughout the world," he told ABCNEWS. "We are not concerned about the money; we just want to be fiscally responsible."
The Eagle County sheriff has an annual operating budget of almost $5 million, the district attorney $2 million. And while the budget for the D.A.'s office must be shared among four counties — Eagle, Summit, Lake and Clear Creek — if more funds are needed, those funds, it seems, can be made available.
When District Attorney Mark Hurlbert asked for an additional $105,000 to offset costs associated with prosecuting Bryant, the county allotted his office the money. But that $105,000 lump sum was only for expected fees this calendar year, during which a trial is not expected to take place. Hurlbert has already petitioned county commissioners for an additional $110,000 for next year, and he is expected to get it.
"We have no debt, and we pay for everything in cash," said Stone.
Last year the county spent $2 million for new bleachers at the rodeo fairgrounds in Eagle. County officials shelled out $3 million for a community center in El Jebel. They built two new terminals at the local airport, a facility that this year will service six major airlines. "That's more airlines than many large cities," said Ingstad.
Last winter, direct flights from New York to Eagle flew to accommodate some of the 2.3 million skiers that came to Eagle Valley. The airport is stepping up operations in the summer too, as the county is becoming one of the most popular, and renowned, golf destinations in the county.
The county's revenues are high because there's a lot of spending within its jurisdiction. According to Ingstad, there are more registered cars than people in Eagle County. Second homes, some ranging into the eight digits, account for 50 percent of houses in the area. Annual dues at private golf courses run as high as $250,000, and the valley is filled with luxury hotels, world class ski resorts, restaurants and shops.
All that spending translates into revenue for the county, which has a reserve of almost $50 million.
When asked why, if there is plenty of money, the county would enlist the help of district attorneys in other jurisdictions, Stone explained the reverse was the case: Other counties have offered up their services to Hurlbert unsolicited, Stone said.
The sheriff's office in neighboring Pitkin County is leading an investigation into leaks to the media in the Bryant case, and Boulder County has loaned a deputy D.A.
Besides, Stone argued, "the presumption that spending money alone will win a case is wrong. The facts and the evidence will bear out the truth."