Town to Propose Sales Tax for Law Enforcement
By Kathy Bedell © Saguache Today
“You’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem,” stated Saguache County Sheriff Dan Warwick at a special work session with Town of Saguache Trustees and residents on January 21.
More than 30 residents attended last week’s meeting to address growing concerns over an increase in criminal activity, ranging from residential break-ins, to car thefts, to speeding issues through town. In the end, the solution for local officials is to present a one percent sales tax increase to Saguache voters on the upcoming April 5 ballot, dedicated to providing additional law enforcement within the town.
Saguache Town Trustees Kate Vasha, June Savage, Luana Lovato, Andrew Virdin, and Tony Sandoval along with Town Clerk Therese Garcia were present, in addition to Saguache Mayor Greg Terrell and Sheriff Warwick, to discuss growing concerns regarding the town’s lack of regular patrols. Initial discussions during the regular town board meeting on January 19, led officials to call a special work session to discuss ways to curtail a recent spike in crimes within Saguache. Foremost in many residents’ minds was the need to reinstate a dedicated law enforcement officer to provide more regular patrols in town, as well as quicker response time from county deputies.
In the past, Saguache did have a town constable, but budgetary constraints and personnel issues saw that position eliminated. However, most in attendance at last Thursday’s meeting were willing to revisit the situation. The end result was to present town voters with Resolution No. 2016-D which would increase sales tax in the Town of Saguache by one percent, thereby generating “at least $30,000, which would provide needed funds for law enforcement.”
While the increase, if approved by voters, would not go into effect until January 1, 2017, the Board of Trustees also made the commitment to accelerate the process by committing $50,000 from the town’s reserves to initiate securing a dedicated officer as soon as possible. Ultimately this decision would cover the costs through 2016, even if local residents decided against the ballot measure in April.
During the meeting Sheriff Warwick presented the nuts and bolts of hiring a “mid-range” deputy and what the time line would be to hire and train an additional officer. The salary, which would include benefits, amounts to $50,000/annually.
“I’m short man power and I can’t take someone and put them in town, thereby neglecting other parts of the community,” said Sheriff Warwick. He went on to explain that as things stand now the county department falls short of personnel and resources compared to other counties with even smaller territories and populations. Currently the sheriff’s department has eight full-time deputies, although between one officer being out for medical issues, as well as juggling schedules and vacation time, the staff basically operates with six officers.
This stark reality led town officials to take matters into their own hands and move forward with an intergovernmental agreement between the Town of Saguache and the Saguache County Sheriff’s office to pay for dedicated patrols and law enforcement for the community of about 500 residents. It was during this point in the meeting, when former agreements were re-visited, that Sheriff Warwick expressed his strongest opinions in the matter, declaring that the past arrangement put a burden on every single deputy in the department. It seems in the past, a dedicated Town of Saguache patrol car, which was not always well-equipped, complicated the situation.
“I’m not going to have an officer needing help and have the town board dictate that the officer can’t take the patrol car that far – tough crap! If an officer needs help, another officer is going to back him up, I don’t care what the cost,” said Sheriff Warwick.
Current town officials agreed, indicating that the scheduling and training of an additional deputy would be left to Sheriff Warwick’s discretion and experienced leadership. In addition, Warwick expressed that he would also look into available programs that could help defray some of the expenditures associated with an extra deputy.
After the work session, the Town Trustees went into special session where they voted unanimously to put the resolution to voters on the April 5 Saguache Town ballot. The next steps are as follows, Sheriff Warwick and Trustees will develop a contract, which will be presented to Saguache County Commissioners for approval. Then the process of hiring and training an additional deputy will commence. This action will be initiated regardless of the election outcome, in light of the town’s decision to move forward with securing extra law enforcement detail with reserves funds.
Once the contract is inked, the Sheriff has committed to additional patrols in the Town until a full time officer is hired.
“I will at least get someone patrolling in town as much as possible to try to fulfill the full term of the contract,” Warwick concluded. “And we will reduce the cost for those months where we are lacking before we get someone hired on fulltime.”
Because the sales tax revenue would not kick in until January 2017 the trustees would have to go into the reserves to make up the difference. “We don’t like to go into those reserves,” stated Trustee Kate Vasha, “but I feel like it’s kind of an emergency situation.” She added that if the sales tax measure does not pass in April, then the town will have to figure out where to get that money. At present the Town of Saguache sales tax is at 3%, the increase would bump that up to 4 percent.
At their next regular meeting on February 16, the town board will vote to take the additional balance – over the $20,000 already set aside for 2016 – in reserves to fulfill the balance of the contract. Residents are encouraged to attend and make their voices heard.
“It would be nice to see this kind of participation on every issue that the town deals with,” state Mayor Terrell, adding. “I want to personally thank the deputies; we have fabulous deputies in Saguache!”