A funny thing happened on Saguache County’s way to becoming Cannabis County. In running an excise tax proposal on the same ballot that law enforcement requested a sales tax increase for an expanded force and a new jail complex, they managed to accomplish two things. First, the passage of the excise tax that was touted as relieving Saguache County’s financial crunch and second, the assurance that not much would be done to police the grows once they were approved following the failure of the sales tax initiative.
Was this by design, as some have suggested, since citizens are not fond of tax proposals in the first place, far less two on one ballot? According to several residents who heard commissioners encouraging voters to cast “no” votes on the sales tax initiative, the answer is yes. Does it make sense that those operating both legal and illegal grows in the county would vote against it? Once again, yes. Commissioner Jason Anderson has repeatedly pointed out that Saguache County residents did vote to legalize marijuana, so could be considered in the majority.
But I don’t think the majority of county residents would vote to lose its sheriff and several seasoned deputies. Because if Sheriff Warwick does not get financial support from the county, which has to happen by Dec. 31, he will not run again in 2018. And when he leaves, he will take several of his deputies with him.
The new budget being crafted by commissioners shows no signs of granting Warwick’s budget requests, or providing more money for the county assessor, who could then help raise tax revenues to fill county coffers. It is estimated that some 400-1,000 properties in the county are not on the tax rolls, or are listed as vacant land.
It is the commissioners’ sworn duty to fund law enforcement, public health and to engage in weed control. This is according to state statute. The county must pay a competitive wage for deputies who will go elsewhere if they cannot earn a living wage here. As Sheriff Warwick pointed out last year, sheriffs and deputies in other counties the same size or smaller than Saguache have twice as many deputies and do not have to grovel before their commissioners for funding. Saguache commissioners have repeatedly told the sheriff’s office they should not expect the county to fund a new jail or hire sufficient staff to patrol the county.
Commissioners can justify thousands of dollars to fund Leach Airport. Sizeable sales tax grants can be awarded to the same organizations year after year, while the sheriff’s office either receives nothing or lesser amounts. People can complain that they receive no response from the sheriff’s office, or that they are dissatisfied with the response they receive. They fail to understand the need to take up those complaints with commissioners, who run the sheriff’s office on such a short string deputies are overworked, underpaid, seldom see their families and must deal with a jail situation that is both dangerous and in violation of health standards.
In legalizing marijuana, no one considered the toll this would take on rural law enforcement agencies, a point reportedly made recently in a news station interview with the El Paso County sheriff. Saguache County’s doors are open wide to growers, so the county now needs two, not one code enforcement officer, as recently discussed in commissioner meetings. Code enforcement officers, since their duties encompass law enforcement activities, should also be deputies, Sheriff Warwick believes, for safety and other considerations. This makes perfect sense.
But code enforcement officers and the courthouse security officer must be counted as sheriff’s office staff outside the usual staff that office should enjoy, for no one asked the county to outdo other Valley counties in issuing grower permits; in fact, many would now like to see a moratorium placed on marijuana, but commissioners have placed that possibility on perpetual hold. Any funding that involved the policing of marijuana grows should have been factored into the budget separate from law enforcement needs. But this was not the case.
Numerous articles in this publication have warned Saguache County residents for years that their county government has reached the implosion point on several different levels and is in serious need of total revamping. Few, however, have taken these warnings seriously and even fewer have attempted to do anything meaningful to remedy the situation, least of all the commissioners. It is inconceivable that it would actually take a tragic accident or death, due to lack of necessary personnel in the Saguache County Sheriff’s office to respond, to move county residents to support law enforcement.
Commissioners seem to feel they are under no obligation to county residents to ensure their safety, despite the increase of property and other crimes in the county over the past several years. They seem unconcerned they are only inches away from the first wrongful death or serious bodily injury lawsuit. Unless one of their own family members suffers, a lack of law enforcement coverage will not mean a thing to them.
But maybe the word recall, said by some to be already in progress, will mean a little more.
Saguache County residents who wish to see the full finding of the sheriff’s office and provisions for a new jail in this year’s budget are urged to attend the Dec. 19 and Jan. 9, 2018 commissioner meetings, beginning at 9 a.m. They also may submit letters and emails to commissioners at: https://www.saguachecounty.net/index.php/commissioners. Please cc Valley Publishing for verification purposes at [email protected].