By Tony Parra
Roosevelt County Sheriff Tom Gossett said because of a depleted staff there have been nights recently in which there have not been any deputies on patrol.
Gossett blames low salaries for the deputy shortage and the inability to hire replacements. He said he has five deputies currently on staff now and another might be leaving. The department is slotted to have nine deputies plus a sheriff and a sergeant.
Elida Mayor Gerald Lee said about a week ago Elida police department officers called the Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Department for help on an accident, but were told that deputies could not assist and the New Mexico State Police would have to be contacted.
Lee said the accident didn’t have any major injuries, but that it took state officers approximately two hours to arrive at the scene.
“There have been a number of times that we have called and there have not been any deputies on duty,” Lee said. “I don’t think it’s (deputy departure) just because of money. Others have left for different reasons.”
Gossett said he’s asked the Roosevelt County Commission for pay raises and a benefits package at least twice and has been turned down.
Roosevelt County commissioners increased wages for certified deputies from $10.82 an hour to $12.82 an hour during an October meeting. The pay for uncertified candidates ($9.62) was not changed.
The pay is comparable to that of the Portales Police Department but well below recent raises awarded to Clovis police and Curry County deputies.
“I’m the only one who has ever stood up to them (commissioners),” Gossett said. “I’m not saying the other departments shouldn’t get the money they request. The more money they get, the more power to them.”
Roosevelt County chairman Gene Creighton said the lack of applicants is not just a county problem but a state-wide problem.
“There just aren’t that many certified officers looking for jobs,” Creighton said. “We (implemented) a salary increase and it hasn’t done anything. It’s a tough situation and we could face some liability issues. We’ve been over budget and we aren’t generating enough (revenue) to offset the costs. You can’t just throw money at the problem.”
Gossett said he was told in September there was no money in the budget for raises, but said commissioners tapped into the general reserve fund to pay for a vehicle for County Administrator Charlene Hardin and added an employee in the road department.
Commissioner Dennis Lopez admitted the vehicle purchase came at a time when Hardin was one of the three finalists for the Curry County administrator position.
“We (commissioners) didn’t want to lose her,” Lopez said. “We felt it would have cost just as much or more to replace her. I was in support of the adjustment. You can’t compare those departments to each other. It’s like comparing oranges to apples.”
Roosevelt County Road Department Superintendent Jackie Grimes said the $18,808 he received from the reserve fund was used to hire someone for the caliche crew. Grimes said the department was falling behind in some of the caliche road work and needed to hire an additional equipment operator.
“I don’t have any control over what they (commissioners) give me,” Grimes said. “I just ask for what I think my department needs. I don’t have any problems with the sheriff department getting more money. But that’s not my place to say.”