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County and Mt. CB reach agreement on sheriff issue

Eight-month, $139K contract for north valley coverage

By Cayla Vidmar

The law enforcement agreement between Mt. Crested Butte and the Gunnison County Sheriff’s Office was a hotly debated topic between sheriff candidates in the 2018 elections. As promised by the elected sheriff, John Gallowich, the contract will be resumed between the two entities once the agreement is approved next week, to which all signs are pointing.

County commissioners looked over the proposed contract with Mt. Crested Butte on Tuesday, April 15 and indicated they will vote to approve it at their next meeting on April 23. The contract will be good until the end of 2019.

“There has been some type of an agreement between the Gunnison County Sheriff and the Town of Mt. Crested Butte since 1975,” writes Mt. Crested Butte town manager Joe Fitzpatrick. That contract was not extended after it expired under the former sheriff’s department last year, and Mark Mykol, who ran for sheriff against Gallowich, had no intention of resuming the contract. This raised concerns for some in terms of the life safety of citizens in the north valley.

The law enforcement agreement has the Gunnison County Sheriff’s Office paying the Mt. Crested Butte Police Department to patrol and respond to north valley areas that would otherwise be the sheriff’s jurisdiction. Without the contract in place, some argue the service to these areas would be subpar due to response times for sheriff deputies from their base in Gunnison, and a lack of local north valley knowledge that Mt. Crested Butte police officers have.

“This is a life safety issue for citizens and police officers, and having the Mt. Crested Butte Police Department provide service to the north end of the county is the best thing for all,” says Fitzpatrick. “Our officers know the roads, rivers, land, mountains, trails, campgrounds, non-campgrounds, street names, etc.,” he concludes.

Since Gallowich was elected last November, the county and the town of Mt. Crested Butte have been operating under an informal agreement in which the Mt. Crested Butte Police Department has been fulfilling the duties of the previous contract without a formal contract in place.

But that should change next week, with all parties involved indicating the new contract will be signed.

“My understanding is there is an agreement reached that would be satisfactory for the town of Mt. Crested Butte and the Sheriff’s Office, and that it would be acceptable to you [the Board of County Commissioners] as well,” said Gunnison county attorney David Baumgarten on Tuesday regarding the contract. The board opted to put the final approval of the contract on next Tuesday’s agenda. Once the contract is signed, it will officially take effect.

The contract spans from the date it’s signed to December 31, 2019, at the cost of $139,000. Gallowich says the purpose of the contract is to get the department to the new year, when he will reevaluate the budget for moving forward.

“Dependent on the next budget process, we may take a look at the cost of doing something else, such as a substation, but that could be cost-prohibitive. The agreement is a really good deal for us right now,” says Gallowich.

“Having the Mt. Crested Butte Police Department provide sheriff services is extremely cost-effective for the citizens of Gunnison County. If the Sheriff’s Office had to gear up to provide the same level of service that the Mt. Crested Butte Police Department provides it would cost many, many dollars more,” says Fitzpatrick.

The Sheriff’s Office has deputized eight Mt. Crested Butte police officers to patrol the north valley county jurisdiction. However, the previous sheriff’s department hired three officers, who are currently going through different Colorado law enforcement academies for the purpose of patrolling the north valley. “I don’t know if they’ll all make it through the academy, and that will determine the direction we’ll go in the future with the contract in Mt. Crested Butte,” says Gallowich.

At the end of the day however, Gallowich says he can’t patrol the north end of the valley with the number of people he currently has. “I need the eight guys from the Mt. Crested Butte department.”

Funding is the main sticking point for Gallowich, regardless of which direction the department decides to go in 2020—whether continuing the contract with Mt. Crested Butte or building a substation. “I’m going to have to come up with the $139,000 [for the agreement] and I’m not going back to the Board of County Commissioners for that money,” says Gallowich. He noted a couple of budget lines he can use to contribute to that cost, and says he’s confident his department will be able to come up with the money from within the department.

Should the contract be signed next Tuesday by the Board of County Commissioners, the north valley can expect continued service on behalf of the Mt. Crested Butte Police Department.

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