Expired on January 1 and no plan yet in place
By Katherine Nettles
As the recently elected Gunnison County sheriff prepares to take office next week, officials in Mt. Crested Butte are hoping this means sheriff John Gallowich will renew the long-term service contract between the county and the town that has been in limbo under his predecessor, Rick Besecker. But Gallowich has made it a point to not officially discuss such matters until he is sworn into office on January 8.
During the budget talks for 2019, Mt. Crested Butte financial chief Karl Trujillo said he thought there was potential to renew the sheriff’s contract with Gunnison County. “It’s a very good deal for the taxpayers,” said Trujillo, who estimated it would cost the county nearly $1 million to provide the same service that the town of Mt. Crested Butte currently provides. “Two thirds of dispatch fees we pay are for county calls. About $60,000 of the $90,000 we pay is for county calls and not for Mt. Crested Butte,” said Trujillo, meaning much of the Mt. Crested Butte responses are for calls that would otherwise go to sheriff’s deputies.
The law enforcement agreement between the Gunnison County Sheriff’s Department and the Mt. Crested Butte Police Department, which dated back to the 1980s, provided a fee to Mt. Crested Butte to maintain coverage of the north valley on behalf of the sheriff. The contract was not renewed in 2018 when sheriff Besecker and the county determined the county would take over full law enforcement jurisdiction throughout the area beginning in 2019, under Besecker’s direction. The county and Mt. Crested Butte agreed to an extension for 2018, but the sheriff’s deputies began increasing their presence throughout the north end in preparation for the change.
Gallowich campaigned against the decision, calling it financially strenuous for the county and logistically unrealistic for deputies to respond in a timely manner. He stated his intention as sheriff would be to reinstate the contract, and continue coverage from Mt. Crested Butte Police Department with the new year.
Since winning the race for sheriff, Gallowich has said he is working actively to determine his course of action.
Mt. Crested Butte currently employs seven officers and a police chief, according to Trujillo. He said that typically there are two officers on duty at a time, so eight total works out well. He also factored in that there is sometimes someone injured or on vacation, and sometimes they have extra officers on duty for special events or busy holidays.
Mayor Todd Barnes spoke to the possible ramifications of cutting out the sheriff’s contract, under which deputies patrol the north end of the valley. “The big concern is that they would get bored; they enjoy patrolling the backcountry. So that would increase our turnover,” Barnes said during the budget discussions in November.
Trujillo agreed that the additional patrolling area was good for the department. “It’s good for their experience. It helps keep our officers trained properly, and we rarely lose an officer,” he said.
Several town officials spoke of an incident during late October in the aftermath of a head-on collision on Highway 135. Mt. Crested Butte and Crested Butte were on-scene, while the sheriff’s department was responding from mile marker 2 in Gunnison. Barnes reported that the sheriff’s officers got there after the scene was cleared, and had their patrol lights and sirens activated when they encountered the ambulance—going the opposite direction. “It was a very slick road that morning, and they almost collided with the ambulance. It’s dangerous; they were trying to get here, and show getting here faster than usual, but it doesn’t work,” said Barnes, referring to the sheriff’s deputies’ efforts to demonstrate a fast response time to Crested Butte even from Gunnison.
Trujillo said if Gallowich is open to it, the town would engage in another four-year contract.