SAGUACHE — Saguache Sheriff Dan Warwick says his jail is still overcrowded and despite hiring a new deputy he is still missing about half the staff he needs to run the sheriff’s office with maximum efficiency and safety.
When asked about prospects for more funding from the county, he gave little hope that he would see any relief in the near future. Warwick said he is grateful to commissioners for two new police cars, made possible by a great deal from Town and Country in Salida. The cars, however, will still need $10,000 in radios and lights, something one car salesman is contributing cash for from his own pocket.
Warwick says he does not know where the rest of the funding to completely equip the cars will come from.
Warwick says the county had an opportunity to grant pay raises at one point for the various county department heads, but commissioners insisted there is not enough money in the budget for the increases, then or now. However, Rio Grande, Conejos and Mineral counties did see their way clear to raise salaries for their employees, Warwick pointed out, and Conejos, at least, has just as many money problems as Saguache.
Recent articles in local papers, however, point out that both Conejos and Rio Grande law enforcement officials still complain their sheriff’s offices are understaffed and their deputies underpaid. This could reflect the fact that criminal activity is increasing, but not staffing.
Warwick says bottom level employees have seen a pay increase because the minimum wage went up, but those who have served longer and have more responsibility are not compensated for their efforts in the same manner, making it hard to attract qualified prospects.
“I don’t like where this county is headed,” Warwick said. “It seems like commissioners can fund the feel-good things,” but not the state-mandated departments they were elected to fund.
When asked if he felt the lack of funding springs from political motives, Warwick said maybe in part, but mostly it is a war of ideas, and commissioners do not share his ideas about many things. Some county residents say they have heard talk among commissioners that Warwick is not well liked and he is the cause of the turnover among deputies at the sheriff’s office.
The department recently hired a new deputy and another deputy could be hired next year, Warwick told commissioners during a recent commissioners meeting. Despite the drawbacks and the obstacles, Warwick says he continues to move forward and has not lost hope completely that circumstances might change in the future.