County pushes back on sheriff’s request for more manpower

Asking for more data

[ By Katherine Nettles ]

Gunnison County commissioners have spoken in general support of the Gunnison County sheriff’s department and its seeming increase in violent crime responses during the past year, but suggested last week that they are not prepared to green light a request for an additional deputy. Commissioners met with sheriff John Gallowich on Tuesday, November 9 to follow up after Gallowich’s budget request meeting in October during which Gallowich broached the topic of adding another deputy to his payroll. Commissioners asked for more follow through on supporting data for the line item.

Gallowich presented firmer numbers on his projected amount of returned budget funds for 2021, having met with county finance director Juan Guerra to determine it was $175,000 of carry over funds. He asked to repurpose $86,000 of that funding to hire an additional deputy, and then use the rest of the balance to purchase some tactical equipment and laptops for deputies to take on the road so they could do their paperwork beyond the main station location in Gunnison.

However, county manager Matthew Birnie noted that in the previous meeting undersheriff Adam Murdie had said he was working on data to show how the department is facing increased call volumes and is sometimes understaffed on weekends. Birnie said Murdie had promised to provide more context of call types, and why jail numbers are going down, but calls are going up. Commissioners agreed they would like to see that data.

Birnie said there were some discrepancies between the sheriff’s tally of total full-time employees versus the county’s count.
“I do not count the court security deputy,” acknowledged Gallowich of his deputy count. Gallowich also said he has agreed to use the salary approved for one full-time deputy to pay for the contract with Mt. Crested Butte’s coverage of the North Valley.

“The reality is that we’re growing. Our county is growing. And I will submit to you that we are going to have to address that sooner or later,” said Gallowich. “Some of the issues that the cities have, we are going to start experiencing that here.”

He described more serious calls, including assault, domestic assault and homicide, including an incident the previous weekend. “When we get an increase to those types of calls, I do not want to send one deputy to that….those are extremely volatile.”

“We are not questioning what you think is the best way forward. We are asking you to share with us what that looks like,” said commission chair Jonathan Houck. He said without looking at long-term impacts of a new salaried position, which can carry over to several departments as the county faces growing pains, strategic planning is undermined. “Once you start thinning that out it waters down everywhere our ability to do anything.

“I am concerned and hesitant about hiring another FTE,” continued Houck, due to the ongoing expense of a salaried position. “For me to look at that kind of increase is going to require some more data driven information.”

Commissioner Liz Smith expressed her appreciation for the way the sheriff’s department has conducted itself during high intensity situations and agreed that more context would be helpful for the budget request. “If you could package that together and show a compelling need, in addition to how the FTE is working,” she suggested, it would be more helpful.

Houck added that he wanted to know the interplay between county and municipality response units, and where other agencies are responding as well.

Gallowich said he would sit down with Murdie, whose efforts to gather requested data had been delayed by other incidents, and work on providing more data. The next step will be for commissioners to make a decision before their final budget meeting December 14.

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