New budget upsets sheriff
Las Cruces Bulletin
An early Doña Ana County budget proposal appears to not add money the sheriff’s department has asked for, which led to a meeting Tuesday, April 28, in which Sheriff Enrique “Kiki” Vigil and his supporters faced off with some county commissioners and administrators.
The heart of the dispute stems from the commission earmarking a portion of its three-eighths of a percent gross receipts tax (GRT) to needs in the sheriff’s department for better pay, improved communication equipment, new vehicles and upgraded record keeping – amounting to about a third of the estimated $12 million a year in new revenue.
At a recent budget work session, however, two budgets were presented – one that included the tax increase and one that didn’t. Both versions reflected a total budget of $20.4 million for the sheriff’s department.
In essence, Vigil said his department would not be seeing any increase and may be even left with a tighter budget.
After being told by a county administration that his department would not be seeing any of the new GRT, Vigil said he was also told not to meet with commissioners about his concerns because they could be seen as violations of the Open Meetings Act. Vigil disputed this take in the law because he would not have met with more than one commissioner at a time.
Vigil was told about the “subSHERIFF,
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planted” budget by County Commissioner Ben Rawson, who has been saying County Commission Chairman Billy Garrett and County Commissioner Wayne Hancock want the new GRT money for other county needs.
“I never intended this to be a contest of wills,” Vigil said.
Vigil tried to reach out to all the commissioners, but said he has just found three of them – Rawson, Leticia Benavidez and David Garcia – willing to acknowledge the department’s needs.
“We need major surgery, not a Band Aid solution,” Vigil said.
Hancock said he has repeatedly spoken in support of using the new GRT money for roads, the detention center and sheriff’s department. The problem is how to implement that new money for those purposes, he said.
“It’s a lot more complicated than just sticking a number in,” Hancock said. “It just doesn’t happen that way. It’s not that easy. I wish it was, but it’s not.”
Increasing pay for employees at the sheriff’s department and detention center has consequences, Hancock said, such as raising the question of pay parity for other employees.
Garrett said he supported Vigil’s campaign when he ran for sheriff, so he was disappointed by the breakdown in communications about the budget process.
“When I hear you, I feel like I’m being treated like the enemy, and nothing could be further from the truth,” Garrett said. “We have to look out for all the employees of the county and all of the needs of the county.”
Garrett questioned whether $4 million would be adequate for the improvements needed in the sheriff’s department. But the county also has a lot of other needs in other departments, he said.
Garrett said there are questions also of how much and when to spend on the efforts such as buying new patrol cars.
Garrett attributed the dispute to “misunderstandings and miscommunications,” saying he believed the final budget will have more money for public safety than ever before. However, the increased GRT also provides an opportunity to bring better balance to the county’s overall budget, he said.
Rawson said the commission passed a resolution detailing the earmarks because the GRT reflected the largest tax increase in the county’s history and people demanded to know how that money was going to be spent.
Garcia said he believed everybody in the county is working to a common purpose, but the public wants to know how the GRT increase is going to improve public safety. The county’s budget, however, is complex, he said.
“I believe with time, and time will prevail, we’ll get there,” Garcia said.
Benavidez had proposed offering a new resolution to further clarify how the GRT money was to be spent, but Garrett, Hancock and Garcia voted to table it indefinitely. Garrett said there will be future steps in the budgeting process that will get the sheriff’s department the resources it needs.
Rawson said he believes Garrett and Hancock are using the budget process – and concerns about promised pay increases to the collective bargaining process with other employee groups – to back out of the promised money to sheriff’s department “so they can spend the money on anything they want to, and it’s wrong.”
Todd G. Dickson may be reached at 680-1983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
‘We need major surgery, not a Band Aid solution.’
SHERIFF ENRIQUE “KIKI”VIGIL
On why his department needs additional money budgeted
By Todd G. Dickson