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Sheriff Gets 15 More Deputies

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In the end, Sheriff Dan Houston got his deputies.

Bernalillo County commissioners on Tuesday voted 4-1 in favor of authorizing 15 more deputies for the Sheriff’s Office, giving Houston the full 20-deputy expansion he had sought earlier this year. In May, the commission approved only five deputies.

The authorization of 15 more on Tuesday was the first of several votes in which the commission’s new Republican majority succeeded in reviving ideas that had failed when Democrats controlled the body.

Simon Kubiak, a Republican, was appointed two weeks ago to serve until a successor is elected to fill the unexpired term of Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat who stepped down to focus on campaigning for Congress.

Also Tuesday, the commission accepted introduction of a plan to publish the names and salaries of all county employees on the Web and authorized more funding for helicopter operations, as requested by Houston, a Republican.

The sheriff said the extra deputies will mean more patrols and pro-active law-enforcement work, especially in the South Valley.

“I think this is a win for the citizens of Bernalillo County,” Houston said.

Commissioner Wayne Johnson sponsored Tuesday’s request for the extra 15 deputies. Law enforcement, he said, must be the county’s No. 1 priority.

“Nothing good happens in this community if it can’t be policed and secure,” Johnson said. “This additional funding and staffing will allow (deputies) to better serve everybody, not only in Albuquerque but also the unincorporated areas.”

Joining him in favor were Republicans Michael Wiener and Kubiak and Democrat Art De La Cruz.

De La Cruz said supporters made their case better this time, though he said he still had concerns about the expense. The request failed on a party-line vote earlier this year.

“I think there was a deficit in information the last time this item was heard,” he said.

Maggie Hart Stebbins, the other Democrat, cast the lone “no” vote. She and De La Cruz repeatedly questioned Deputy County Manager Teresa Byrd about whether the county can afford to pay for the new deputies’ salaries, cars and other equipment.

“This is a significant budget expansion,” Hart Stebbins said.

She said she demanded strong justification from every department that sought additions and said her concerns weren’t partisan.

Byrd said the deputies are expected to result in about $1.2 million in ongoing annual costs in future years. The county can afford that expense as long as revenue growth meets the county’s projections.

“It’s very tight,” Byrd said.

If there’s no growth in revenue, the county will have to consider other budget adjustments, such as spending cuts or tax increases, she said. On the other hand, the growth projections are conservative, Byrd said.

Johnson said the concern about budget projections could apply to any expense.

“All funding in the county,” he said, is subject to unforeseen catastrophes or events that disrupt economic activity.

The sheriff’s annual operating budget totals about $32 million. The extra 20 deputies approved this year would boost the number of deputies authorized in the budget from 282 to 302.

In other action, the County Commission approved:

♦ Introduction of a government-transparency ordinance calling for the county to publish the names and salaries of its employees on the county website.

The commission decided last year to post the names of only high-level employees, with others being identified by job title. At one point, Johnson was the only one who wanted all the names published.

Tuesday’s bill, on the other hand, was accepted for introduction unanimously, though commissioners indicated they will discuss it further when it returns for final action.

♦ Pay increases for sheriff’s deputies. Deputies haven’t had a raise in about five years, but they are now scheduled to get 2 percent each of the next three years, among other changes, said Kyle Hartsock, president of the union that represents deputies.

The “county assured us that when economic times improved, they would take care of us,” he said, “and they are following through on their promise.”

♦ An extra $500,000 for helicopter operations by the Sheriff’s Office. It passed on a 3-2 vote over the objection of Hart Stebbins and De La Cruz, who questioned whether the county and city could cooperate better to make air operations more efficient.

In June, the commission voted along party lines to grant Houston only $800,000 of the $1.3 million he said was necessary. They said the final $500,000 would be considered contingent on exploring better cost-sharing with the city’s Police Department.

The money is necessary to pay for operation of the department’s Huey and A-Star helicopters. Federal funds used to help pay for the helicopters, but the county determined the money can’t be used for that purpose, according to county staff report provided to the commission.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal