Dave Heil

Public safety in Sandoval County is not a partisan issue.

An example of this took place at the July 23 board of commissioners meeting after a unanimous vote by the commission allowed the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office to take full advantage of a COPS Hiring Program grant, which will help the SCSO hire five more deputies.

Commissioner Michael Meek and I worked with Sandoval County Sheriff Jesse James Casaus and Undersheriff Joe Gonzales recently to take advantage of this grant made available through the Department of Justice.

With his experience as Rio Rancho fire chief, Commissioner Meek worked with Gonzales on the details needed to attain vests, tasers, guns, ammunition and other necessary equipment to support the increase of these new deputies.

Sandoval County views its first responders as a top priority. So with this in mind, I worked with the county’s director of finance, Cassandra Herrera, to reconcile the closeout of fiscal year 2020 and update the budget for the final submission to the state Department of Finance.

As it turned out, our decision to close off purchases in May resulted in saving almost $900,000 to carry over into FY2021. (The government year starts July 1.) We also saw an increase of $400,000 in gross receipts tax, mostly related to new construction.

The COPS grant is a three-year grant of a little over $208,000 a year, and Sandoval County’s annual match is about $100,000 for salaries and benefits. The cost of equipment in the first year is about $266,000.

The county needs to prioritize large expenditures. At a time when a pandemic threatens some of our income streams, we do not have wiggle room.

This grant allows us to ease into having five extra deputies by having federal dollars subsidize their salary for three years. The goal is to keep these deputies after the grant period, and that requires planning how we can fund 100 percent after the grant expires.

The one-time cost for new equipment and training, while a substantial amount, does not need to be replenished annually. This grant encourages us to work on a comprehensive replacement/maintenance schedule so we are better able to forecast annual equipment needs accurately.

In addition to the above public-safety commitment, we also identified $250,000 for the animal-shelter program the county manager has been tasked to develop a plan for. The animal shelter is the responsibility of the sheriff’s office.

The budget is submitted to DFA is based on projections, not cash in the bank. DFA should approve our budget by September.

Upon approval, we will revisit the budget, and in December, we will revisit the budget as we have actual tax collections in November.

(Dave Heil is the chairman and District 4 representative on the Sandoval County Commission.)