Saturday, June 6, 2020

County moves to take over sheriff services in north valley

Budget not close to $1 million

By Mark Reaman

Gunnison County has budgeted about $300,000 for the sheriff’s office to begin directly taking care of the north end of the valley from a law enforcement perspective. For decades, the county has contracted with the Mt. Crested Butte Police Department to provide law enforcement services north of Round Mountain. Last year, they paid the town about $140,000 to provide the service.

The county budget figures show a line item for four patrol deputies at $291,226 and potential rent for a substation of $20,000. Take out the $140,000 paid to Mt. Crested Butte and the county is anticipating an increase of about $170,364.

“The difference in cost to the county for the sheriff to exercise his constitutional authority in the north end of the valley versus outsourcing that responsibility is about $170,000,” explained county manager Matthew Birnie. ”This is the net cost going forward once Mt. Crested Butte is no longer a contractor. If Mt. Crested Butte signs the six-month extension, there will be additional temporary costs to cover that contract for six months. This will be offset a bit, because we would likely spend less on rent under the extension scenario.”

Regarding rent, Birnie said ultimately the county would look for a more permanent solution for a small sub-station up valley rather than a rental space.

Acting Mt. Crested Butte town manager Karl Trujillo said adding four deputies to the sheriff’s department won’t match the current coverage provided by the town. “They hired four deputies so now they have enough to cover the south end of the valley with recent personnel departures. I’d think they need to hire another seven deputies to match the coverage we provide,” he said. “I fear the plan on covering this end of the valley is through Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte’s mutual aide agreements, which will cost them less. Both towns might need to renegotiate our mutual aide agreements with the sheriff in the future.”

Mt. Crested Butte mayor Todd Barnes said he is extremely frustrated with the whole situation and lack of communication. He said the mutual aid agreements will indeed be restructured but the town will not be doing the work of the deputies for free. “It will be renegotiated and costs adjusted,” said Barnes.

As far as the kerfuffle over the contract extension, Birnie said he gave an approved copy for a six-month extension to Mt. Crested Butte town manager Joe Fitzpatrick on August 16, 2017. “So, if Mt. Crested Butte is concerned about coverage and a smooth transition as they say, it is perplexing that it is December 8 and the Town Council still has not signed it.”

“We first learned of a desire by the commissioners to have the sheriff take over policing this end of the valley in a February article in the Crested Butte News. The sheriff said the move came at the direction of the commissioners,” Barnes said. “But whenever we have asked for a meeting to discuss logistics and a plan, we get little to no response from the board, the sheriff or the county staff. We do not understand why. It seems to be an attitude of ‘sign the extension or else’ and we don’t appreciate that.”

“The contract given to Joe in August was not signed by the county commissioners,” added Trujillo. “I did send out a request to set up a meeting with everyone and invited the sheriff and manager to our next council meeting on December 19. I haven’t heard if they will attend but I have it on the agenda. Again, our biggest concern is the continued safety of the citizens at this end of the valley and no one from the county will respond and tell us what their plan for coverage is.”

“We are concerned with response times. We are concerned with chain of command. We are concerned with realistic costs. We are concerned with citizen safety and the amount of coverage they plan to provide,” Barnes continued. “We do not plan to lay off any officers and we will not leave the citizens up here high and dry. We will respond to calls. But we think it works best if we have a real transition period and six months from now isn’t it. We’d like at least a year and it probably needs more. We will talk about it Tuesday.”

When it comes to other expenses, Birnie said they are being considered. “This does not include costs for additional vehicles as we buy some new patrol vehicles nearly every year and initially we will keep vehicles that we would otherwise have traded in to accommodate the additional officers,” he said. ”Ultimately, vehicle costs will increase as we accelerate our replacement schedule over the next few years to move the older units out of service.”

The Mt. Crested Butte Town Council will discuss the contract and options to address the situation at the Tuesday, December 19 meeting.

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