Pubdate: Sun, 05 Nov 2006
Source: Daily Sentinel, The (Grand Junction, CO)
Copyright: 2006 Cox Newspapers, Inc.


At any time, day or night, there may be five to seven  Mesa County 
Sheriff's Department deputies patrolling  3,346 square miles of the 
county. And that's it.

Sheriff Stan Hilkey, who is also the fire marshal for  the county, 
oversees the county jail, is in charge of  search and rescue, serves 
civil papers and performs a  slew of other duties, is aware of the numbers.

In his $20.5 million budget proposal for 2007, which he  will present 
to the Mesa County Board of Commissioners  Nov. 13, he is asking for 
16 additional full-time  employees - nine patrol deputies, two 
deputies for  added court security and five administrative personnel.

It is the largest addition of employees in at least the  last six 
years and would bump up the number of  department employees from 208 to 224.

The budget request is an increase of approximately $2  million from 
the department's projected 2006 year-end  budget of $18.5 million. By 
state statute, the county  commissioners have until Dec. 15 to 
approve the 2007  budget.

Mesa County has $146.3 million in available funds.  Hilkey's request 
represents 15.4 percent of the  county's overall budget.

The Sheriff's Department falls under the umbrella of  public safety, 
which is requesting about 25 percent of  available funds. The 
Department of Health and Human  Services is requesting about 26 
percent. Combined, the  two represent half of Mesa County's budget.

The additional dollars and personnel being requested by  the 
Sheriff's Department are needed to fight the  growing problem of 
methamphetamine in Mesa County,  Hilkey said.

"The methamphetamine culture within Mesa County is  directly or 
indirectly involved in nearly every  criminal investigation," 
according to the sheriff's  budget proposal.

The commission of a burglary, a car theft, an assault  or a robbery 
is often the end result of a quest to come  up with some fast cash to 
buy meth. The drug is the No.  1 reason why Mesa County's crime rate 
has been rising  faster than the county's population for the last six 
years, Hilkey said.

Mesa County's crime rate has increased 31 percent from  2000 to 2005, 
according to the Colorado Bureau of  Investigation. Using United 
States Census Bureau  population estimates, Mesa County experienced a 
11.7  percent increase in population during the same time  frame.

In Hilkey's opinion only a few members of that growing  population 
are responsible for the increase in crime.

"We know that it is really a very small percentage that  is causing 
the majority of our workload," he said.

To get a better handle on that small population of  lawbreakers, the 
sheriff will be asking for $181,581 to  maintain the Street Crimes 
Overlap Team, which was  created in May. The five-deputy team was 
given two  prime directives: Cover the streets during shift  change; 
and track known offenders and bring fugitives  to justice.

"And we have made an impact," Hilkey said. "I think  it's been a 
great success. We can't sustain it,  though."

In order to create the unit, Hilkey took advantage of  available 
manpower and used School Resource Officers  during School District 
51's summer break. Now that  classes are back in session, Hilkey 
said, the unit's  future is in jeopardy unless the county 
commissioners approve his request.

The sheriff also wanted to add eight deputies to  patrol. But after 
making an initial budget request a  month ago of $22.8 million for a 
total of 29 full-time  employees, he (as was every other Mesa County 
department) was told to scale back his proposal.

The sheriff is now asking for 16 new employees, and of  that number 
four are patrol deputies at a price tag of  $145,264.

The four additional deputies, Hilkey said, would help  in the 
department's fight against meth and increase its  ability to deal 
with another common complaint from  residents: traffic.

"Ninety percent of the people in the valley are not  affected by 
meth, but they are by traffic," Hilkey  said. "The constituency gives 
you a whole lot of  feedback, and traffic is a big one."

In addition to street-level policing, the sheriff is  responsible for 
keeping order in the court, where  Hilkey wants to add two more 
deputies at a cost of  $72,632.

Hilkey also wants to increase staff in a few key  departments.

His request includes a crime analyst, with a salary of  $49,400, to 
keep track of crime statistics and spot  trends or target areas where 
certain types of crime are  bubbling up.

And he is asking for a grant writer for $45,156 and two  full-time 
employees to be paid $25,843 apiece to do  background checks on 
prospective Sheriff's Department  employees.

The sheriff also wants to have one investigator devoted  to 
monitoring convicted sexual offenders living in the  county for $33,296 a year.
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