County sheriff’s department looks to increase deputy count

Increased call volume, two years left in North Valley coverage contract

[ By Katherine Nettles ]

As Gunnison County Sherriff John Gallowich presented his proposed 2022 department budget to Gunnison County commissioners last week, he suggested that an increase in full-time deputies and preparing for the possible event of taking over the north end of Gunnison County be considered more seriously in the coming years. Commissioners have not committed to anything, but agreed to consider a proposal using returned funds from the sheriff’s department 2021 budget to support the request and will hold an additional work session with Gallowich before adopting next year’s budget.

The contract with Mt. Crested Butte police department, which covers the north end of the Gunnison Valley, is set through 2024, and Gallowich said if it is not renewed the department must be prepared. That potential outcome of covering the North Valley with only county deputies would warrant a larger staff, he said.

“We need to start building our force for the day that may come when we are responsible for the entire county,” said Gallowich. He said he spoke with the town manager of Mt. Crested Butte recently about the existing contract and feels good about it. All agreed the county gets a good value in that coverage for a cost of $146,000 annually with a 4 percent annual increase, and that it will take more than two deputies to cover that area if needed in the future.

“But we need to start being more proactive. We have stabilized our manpower,” said Gallowich of the unfilled positions that plagued the department when Gallowich first took office. He noted that the low wage issue that had made recruitment challenging has also been resolved, and Gunnison County deputies are now among the top 10 percent in the state in wages.

“But it’s never just money; it’s leadership,” commented county manager Matthew Birnie. “Now we have the combined changes in leadership and money and the turnover has stabilized.”

Birnie recalled that the previous sheriff had proposed four additional full-time deputies to take over the North Valley contract, but turnover had never allowed for that expansion. Gallowich said regardless of how the North Valley contract works out, two additional deputies on his payroll would ease staffing shortages and increased call volume.
“The bottom line is what do we have to protect our county, to serve our citizens? Over the years, the calls for service have nearly doubled,” said Gallowich. In 2009, there were 509 calls for service, and over the last several years it has continuously gone up to 894 calls in 2020 and as of October this year, 740 calls. “If you project that out, that is going to be 938 calls,” he said, by the end of the year. Those numbers do not include calls from Mt. Crested Butte. He recalled that in the last year, there have been two critical incidents, and “COVID has gotten to us as well,” he said. “Sometimes even with a full staff there will be a Friday or Saturday night where we only have one deputy on duty and that is unacceptable.”

Birnie said candidly that the budget did not allow for two additional deputies and the required vehicles, training and other ongoing expenses associated with them. But Gallowich had a proposal that initial funding come from his department’s returned funds over the past few years.

The sheriff’s department projects it will return between $260,000 and $300,000 this year, and the previous year returned closer to $400,000. “We don’t waste money,” he said of the returned funds.

He asked if commissioners could authorize his department to utilize some or all of that money on additional deputies.
Birnie suggested it could be done by allocating money to what would become an ongoing expense of additional personnel and removing it from the line items where it wasn’t spent. He suggested the department and the county finance team work more closely on that together. Commissioners agreed that with more data they would be willing to have a follow up meeting prior to budget adoption in December.

Undersheriff Adam Murdie said his department is preparing a five-year staffing analysis, along with call volume and workload metrics. The plan is for him to meet with the BOCC again in a work session this fall.

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