SAGUACHE — Saguache County Sheriff’s Office Jail Commander Capt. Ken Wilson addressed a crowd of about 30 attendees last Wednesday who came to hear him speak regarding the 1.5 percent sales tax proposal to fund law enforcement on this November’s ballot.
The tax increase, supported by commissioners, is proposed “for the direct funding of urgent public safety needs regarding Saguache County’s statutory obligations to provide adequate law enforcement operations for the county of Saguache.”
Wilson told the audience the money appropriated through the sales tax would be spent on equipment upgrades, training, hiring additional personnel, and maintaining the “Band-Aid” on jail operations until a new jail can be built. In spending the money, Wilson explained, the Saguache Sheriff’s Office would still need to go through the same process with the county they go through now.
Funds over a certain amount would still need to be approved by commissioners, and commissioners would also have the ability to dip into funds when needed for other county operations. Wilson said Sheriff Dan Warwick is ready and willing to help out other county departments whenever necessary.
If the sales tax is approved, Wilson noted, any money left over at year’s end could be used to make payments on a new jail, if taxpayers should approve a future bond issue. This would limit the amount of money that would need to be raised in taxes, he said. If the sales tax proposal is not approved by voters, the sheriff’ office will need to wait two years before placing it on the ballot again, delaying any hopes of a new jail even further.
The current jail has been described as woefully inadequate by state and local officials.
Wilson said every vehicle in the sheriff’s office fleet has at least 150,000 miles on the speedometer, and for law enforcement purposes is “worn out.” Many employees still need raises, officers need new bulletproof vests and other essential equipment, and deputies need additional training in hostage negotiation and domestic violence situations.
Pay for deputies and sheriff’s office employees is not competitive, he said, making it difficult for the county to attract sheriff’s office employees. Recently Wilson said he saw an ad in the newspaper for Rio Grande County offering dispatchers $12.87 an hour, $2 below what Saguache County offers hourly.
Generally speaking, pay scales in the county are 17-20 percent below the state average, he pointed out.