Commissioners cite number of open positions in Sheriff’s Office as reason to not fund new school resource deputy
The Routt County Board of Commissioners again denied Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins’ request to add another deputy that would serve in schools, as the board acknowledged the multiple open positions already within the office.
Wiggins has asked for the additional funding twice before — once in May and again earlier this fall during the county’s budgeting process — but both times commissioners declined to approve the funding.
On Tuesday, Wiggins approached the board to seek clarification as to why the new position was denied and to ask commissioners to reconsider.
“School safety has always been one of my priorities, and it will continue to be as long as I can afford to, which is extremely difficult right now because we are down numerous employees,” Wiggins said to commissioners.
“I’m not going to stop asking,” Wiggins added. “When we ask for something, it is not that we are asking for it because we want to pad our situations; it’s because I think it’s necessary.”
Commissioners said even if they were to approve the funding, it seems unlikely Wiggins would be able to hire deputies for the current seven openings plus this one. This would essentially tie up county money in a planned expense it likely would not make next year.
The district has multiple buildings outside of Steamboat city limits and jurisdiction of the Steamboat Springs Police Department, which provides a school resource officer based out of Steamboat Springs High School.
The addition of Sleeping Giant School this fall prompted Wiggins’ initial request for the deputy, but both Strawberry Park Elementary and Steamboat Springs Middle School are also beyond the city’s limits.
In May, commissioners denied the additional position for a few reasons. Corrigan and Commissioner Tim Redmond both said they had an issue with funding a position for the district when it already has taxing authority and because the county does not do the same with other districts in the county.
During that discussion, commissioners also discussed the effectiveness of school resource officers, though that was not the reason for denial. Wiggins said part of why he struggled with the denial was because it seemed like commissioners where ignoring his decades of law enforcement experience.
“I may have expressed some philosophical questions about that,” Corrigan said Tuesday, in what he said was an apology to Wiggins. “Frankly, it’s not my place to make those kinds of judgments, and I would defer to you as the sheriff with your experience.”
Corrigan also said he would prefer requests for full-time staff to come through the traditional budget process that happens each fall. Wiggins asked for the position again when discussing the Sheriff’s Office’s budget with commissioners in September.
Steamboat Superintendent Brad Meeks joined Wiggins in front of commissioners Tuesday, speaking highly of the school resource officer program and commending Wiggins for providing a deputy in the schools this fall, even without the extended funding.
“We very much enjoy working with (the school resource deputy) and appreciate having the (deputy) full time,” Meeks said. “We very much would like to continue the SRO with the county, whether that is within the sheriff’s existing budget or if that is something we need to work out with the sheriff, like we did with the city.”
The district funds roughly half of Steamboat’s school resource officer, Meeks said, essentially paying for the time they are on campus during the week, an arrangement that is new this year as the department had traditionally shouldered the officer’s full salary.
Redmond said the decision is really about balancing limited resources.
“It’s tough sitting in the situation, having people make what are good requests and then having a finite situation to deal with,” Redmond said. “There are some things that we couldn’t do for the building department, there were some things that we couldn’t do for road and bridge, and everybody takes a hit.”
County Commissioner Beth Melton said Wiggins should keep asking for the position and potentially bring in more data about the impact another deputy would have.
Wiggins said he will continue to staff a deputy in the schools when he can afford to, though that deputy has to leave school responsibilities if needed for patrol calls.
“If calls come up, and we need him, he’s just got to drop what he’s doing and come,” Wiggins said. “We’re just that low on staffing right now, but that is a huge priority for me. … As long as I can afford to continue to do it, I’m going to do it.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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