Archuleta County is tightening its belt. It has to in the wake of a failed ballot measure that would have increased taxes to pay for a new jail, said county Commissioner Steve Wadley.
“We laid people off to put money in the bank,” he said. “The voters did not want to spend money on a jail, so we’ll have to re-prioritize our money.”
The county saved $3.5 million by laying off employees, Wadley said, and plans to make cuts to programs to keep criminals off the streets and out of the La Plata County Jail, where inmates have been sent for the past two years. But the jail is estimated to cost anywhere between $10 and $12 million, Wadley said.
Archuleta County voters this month rejected a proposed sales tax increase, by a vote of 53 percent to 47 percent, to fund a new justice center, including a jail. It was the second year voters have rejected a tax increase for a new jail.
Counties are required by law to provide a jail and a court. In April 2015, the Archuleta County Jail flooded, rendering the building unusable. Since then, the Archuleta County Sheriff’s Office has housed anywhere between 22 and 30 inmates per day at the La Plata County Jail, paying both with money and time to transport inmates about 60 miles from Pagosa Springs to Durango.
Wadley said transporting inmates that far poses a safety hazard for deputies. And the La Plata County Jail can house only so many inmates. Some lower-level offenders – those with warrants, misdemeanors or low-level felonies – are processed, given a court date and then released on a personal-recognizance bond, meaning those individuals are allowed to leave the jail with the understanding they must show up to court or could be liable for paying the bail, said La Plata County Jail Supervisor Ed Aber.
“These are offenders that are not a danger to the community or themselves,” Aber said.
But Wadley said this practice sends a message to other potential offenders that if they commit a crime, they won’t be taken to jail. There are a lot of people in Archuleta County who should be in jail but aren’t, he said.
“People that are low-level criminals aren’t being sent to jail. They keep getting one more chance. That’s not good,” Wadley said. “It sets an example for those who are breaking the law.”
Archuleta County has paid La Plata County more than $250,000 annually since 2017 to house its inmates, Archuleta Sheriff Richard Valdez said this past year. Aber said these funds have been used to hire staff necessary to detain the additional inmates.
“It’s been a mutual aid kind of relationship where we’re providing some relief to them and they’re providing some relief to us,” Aber said.
And the relationship between the two counties will stay in effect for at least another two years, Wadley said. It’ll take at least 24 months for Archuleta County to save the money, purchase the property and construct a new jail and sheriff’s office, Wadley said.
“As long as they’ll take them, we’ll keep sending them,” Wadley said of Archuleta County inmates being transfered to La Plata County.