There are a number of men who have already have announced their intentions to run for San Miguel County sheriff. They’ll likely make the funding for the Sheriff’s Department a major issue in the campaign.
Sheriff Benjie Vigil, who plans to run for a second term, contends he has hit a brick wall with the county when it comes to getting more money for his department.
The department only has nine deputies, including Vigil. One of those deputies is designated full time for Conchas Dam, which is well over an hour away from Las Vegas. And another deputy is assigned to work in Pecos. That leaves seven deputies for everywhere else.
The county has presented numbers that show funding has increased for the Sheriff’s Department over the last decade. Still, it would be hard to argue that the department is adequately funded, compared with many others in the state.
Historically, San Miguel and Mora counties and other counties in this part of the state have had underfunded sheriff’s departments. The state police essentially provides much more service to the rural areas of this part of New Mexico; in much of the rest of the state, the state police is nothing more than a highway patrol.
San Miguel and Mora counties are fortunate that they get, in essence, a subsidy that most counties don’t, even ones equally as poor. As of yet, there is no sign that the state plans to revoke such a subsidy.
Because of the limited funding, our few sheriff’s deputies spend much of their time transporting inmates and serving papers, with little left over for actual law enforcement.
In this campaign, we hope candidates have an honest debate about funding for the Sheriff’s Department. Vigil said he is proposing the county hire two transport officers who could take care of inmate transportation and paper service. But will the county have the money for the two additional employees? And where should the county cut its budget to free up money for the new personnel?
This would be a good starting point for a discussion among the candidates. In this process, the hopefuls should contact the county manager and the County Commission to find out more about the budget.
Let’s be realistic in facing this issue.