Sheriff upset over funding discrepancies

Kevin Wilson

For the second time in two years, Tom Gossett is doing some campaigning.
Gossett, who won the 2002 sheriff’s race on a platform of proactive law enforcement, is now taking time to react to what he feels is inadequate funding to protect Roosevelt County.
“It’s something like building a house or doing anything else,” Gossett said. “You can’t build a house without labor and without the materials.”
As a county entity, the department goes through the county commission for its funding. He doesn’t believe the commissioners are being vindictive, but he has some concerns over why the road department’s 2003-04 budget ($1,481,817) is more than twice that of the sheriff’s department ($720,013).
“I understand there’s only a limited amount of money as a result of taxes, but I don’t think that the sheriff’s office gets its fair slice of the pie,” Gossett said. “We’re losing officers all the time because other agencies offer No. 1, better pay; No. 2, better equipment.”
The Roosevelt County Commission had a special session on Tuesday as a preliminary budget session. Chairman Dennis Lopez thinks Gossett’s complaints may be a little premature, considering the budget process still has months to go.
“I think that if he had a problem or a concern with this year’s allocations, he should have approached me as a commissioner or the other commissioners,” Lopez said. “All we’ve done to this point is a pre-budget hearing (on Tuesday). That’s it. That’s where we stand.”
Gossett said the budget is part of the reason he has lost officers — five since he took office, with one more leaving in two weeks for the Portales Police Department, due to a better retirement plan.
“The police department has a 20-year retirement while the sheriff’s office has a 25-year retirement,” Gossett said. “To keep an officer, you have to offer them a good wage.”
Gossett points to a fleet of 16 department vehicles, where seven have more than 100,000 miles. Part of that fleet does include two new vehicles and a van, purchased for the purpose of the inmate work program.
“So (the commissioners) have purchased a van and two patrol vehicles. But on the same token, the county commission approved the purchase of two road maintainers, two road graters,” Gossett said. “For the cost of those, my whole fleet could have been replaced.
“I presented the budget last year, I had asked for $28,500 for fuel. That was cut by $5,000, leaving $23,500. I exhausted my fuel budget the first of March. To balance the budget, I have to take it out of some other item.”
For the 2003-04 budget, Gossett explains, the money allotted for full-time salaries was $333,752 for 14 employees — Gossett’s salary of $39,938 is separate from that total.
The road department was given $410,991 for its 14 full-time employees, Gossett said.
“They deserve that, but by the same token, my guys have to go to an academy for six months to become certified,” Gossett said. “They are required by law to have training hours to keep their certification up. I think the hazards are a whole lot different. Again, I do not have any hard feelings about the road department.”
Gossett said that the current plan for sheriff’s department employees calls for a 3.5 percent annual raise, upon a good assessment of job performance. That increase would go down to 2 percent after 14 years.
“I appreciate the commission allowing us to go into that pay plan. However, we were given the 3.5 percent, but the rest of the county employees are getting 5 percent, which I believe should have gone into (our) pay plan.”
Gossett has made several other claims in various presentations across town, including:
l A declined request for a $35,000 computer program called Sleuth, which would allow the sheriff’s department to access records for the Portales Police Department and other law enforcement agencies, and
l Depending on the New Mexico State Police to take calls between midnight and 7 a.m., due to a shortage of personnel.
Gossett said he has no set figure of a budget total that would suit the sheriff’s department. He is only contending that he does not have enough right now.
“I don’t believe in the philosophy of inflating needs,” Gossett said. “To me, that’s starting a negotiation on a negative. I need more than I’ve asked for, but it’s obvious that we’re not going to get it.”
Lopez said that he is not at liberty to comment at this point on any specific claims from Gossett, but felt that the commission tries to fund all of its functions as much as possible.
“There’s a budget we try to work with,” Lopez said. “We have to balance it to the best of our ability and with how government works, not everybody is going to be happy.”