by Lisa Cyriacks
Mayors and trustees from the three towns of Crestone, Moffat and Saguache met in late November with Sheriff Dan Warwick and concerned citizens to discuss coverage.
Attorney Eugene Farish (attorney for both Crestone and Saguache) had specific questions for the Sheriff regarding the scope and limits of his coverage.
Colorado statutes define: “The duty of sheriffs, undersheriffs and deputies to keep and preserve the peace in their respective counties…..”
Sheriff Warwick took the opportunity to clarify that he is responding to calls throughout the county including incorporated towns.
While town trustees have the authority to create a police department for their respective towns, none of these three towns have exercised that authority—nor are they required to. Crestone currently has a code enforcement officer to handle specific matters defined by town ordinance. The other two towns do not have an employee tasked with enforcing town ordinances, although Saguache is currently searching for a code enforcement officer.
Early on in the meeting, the issue of payment for law enforcement services came up. Sheriff Warwick reiterated that his resources are limited—he has seven officers, a large territory to cover (3,170 square miles), and limited funding. Saguache County commissioners are responsible for his budget and provide the funding for his department. The services he provides are what the county is willing to fund, and he believes his officers respond above and beyond the call of duty.
The example of the national average of 24 officers per 10,000 in population was discussed. Given the current population in Saguache County of 6,000+ that would equate to 14 officers to cover the county. Funding does not currently exist to essentially double the county sheriff’s budget.
The evening ended with the towns committed to review their respective positions and options—from supplementing the sheriff’s funding to a contractual agreement for services including some type of payment.
Other options included utilizing Neighborhood Watch as a deterrent. Other discussion included the viewpoint that the funding problem does not lie between the town and the sheriff’s office, but instead is an issue of the county properly funding the sheriff to better provide better coverage for such a large area. This might result in a tax question on the 2016 ballot to provide additional funding specific to the sheriff’s office.
Currently the town of Center budgets $502,800 for their police force, including salaries (and this year new police cars). The 2016 budget for the county sheriff is $665,900. The budget for the jail, which state statutes mandate a county provide, is for $449, 490.
Attorney Farish ended the meeting with this comment, “[It is] a question of how can we work through situations with limited resources? There are a lot of ways to do this, if we put our heads together I hope we can come up with a good solution. We at least have a start by discussing the problem.”