DASO budget cut; County hiring frozen

Hiring of new positions in Dona Ana County has been frozen by the county manager, and county commissioners have voted to take away over a million dollars from the sheriff's budget to be placed back into the county's general fund.

A total of $1.4 million dollars was intended for the salaries of 25 sheriff's employee positions, including about 20 deputies. But the positions are vacant, and in some cases have been for years. The county as a whole is trying to deal with a $15 million budget shortfall, and temporary cuts were deemed necessary.

County Manager Julia Brown said,"I asked the commission to allow me to not only freeze the vacant positions, but to remove the dollars associated with those positions back to the general fund."

The budget readjustment will go toward covering the county's current $15 million deficit, and the freeze covers all county departments. For Sheriff Todd Garrison, it complicates filling positions that are needed today. He said he'll do his best with the resources available.

"This moving of funds is not going to affect that," Garrison said. "We're doing the best we can with the numbers we have, and we have officers out there. We have overtime projects going on. I know some comments were made about officers writing tickets. We do have overtime projects where officers are out writing citations and doing things, because there's a need for that also."

But not everyone's happy. Even though the funds could be returned for the next fiscal year starting July 1, issues like the crime wave in Chaparral are what residents want to see addressed now.

"We need these officers not in Las Cruces giving tickets, you need these individuals out in the county to respond and look at proactive law enforcement models that make sense," resident Pablo Martinez said.

Garrison said he'll be moving forward with trying to increase manpower and coverage to address those issues. And for the county, the cuts could continue, with more funds and departments on the chopping block to cover the deficit.

"This is the beginning," Brown said. "This is just the first step."

The sheriff was able to hire one person recently, Rick Seeberger, as a new chief of staff. He's not a sworn officer, but will be working to re-organize the department. Garrison said that the funds for that hiring came from unused travel and meeting funds in his budget.

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