By David Dove
Many of us who have lived in beautiful Montezuma Valley since before the crime and population explosion that began in late 2020, have become disenchanted with how our County leaders are performing. We have relatives and friends working locally in the construction industry and although we all want our local businesses to create good jobs and be successful, some of our larger contractors appear to be receiving an inordinate level of favorable treatment. Most Montezuma County residents do not want the unmitigated growth we’ve recently experienced because we know huge population increases bring a degraded quality of life, exploding crime-including violent crime, and the loss of the beautiful rural character of the county that is guaranteed by our Land Use Code.
To compound these problems, the commissioners cut the Sheriff Office budget by 21% over the last two years. You read that right! While crime, population, and some County Department budgets are exploding, they cut a part of the budget that may be the most critical to us. They also cut the Veterans budget 34%. Astonishingly, when Sheriff Nowlin was asked by a commissioner if he could fulfill the statutory requirements of his Office after getting his budget slashed again, the Sheriff meekly responded that he could. Really? He was singing a different tune in a recent interview with the Free Press. The exploding crime numbers demonstrate he doesn’t understand what it takes to get control of the situation. If Nowlin couldn’t fill the ten positions that were cut by the commissioners, he should have significantly raised the salaries of deputies we do have with the money he didn’t spend on those unfilled positions. That would make it far easier to attract good quality high-integrity candidates.
This is not the fault of the rank and file in the Sheriff’s Office. Patrol deputies perform a service that comes with very high levels of danger. For our safety and theirs, we need more visibility from the law, not less. Deterrence works. Thieves and bad guys look for easy targets. The county is also plagued by bad leadership in the Cortez Police Department. According to the Fraternal Order of Police (Cortez Journal January 8, 2024), we currently rank as the third worst county in the state per capita for crime! Cutting the Sheriff budget while we are being crushed by crime and unmitigated growth is outrageous and suspicious. What were the commissioners thinking?
While busily hacking up the Sheriff and Veterans budget, over the same period (2022 through the new 2024 budget) they increased the budgets of the following departments: Commissioners +11%, Clerk +31%, Treasurer +27%, Assessor +42%, Attorney +23%, Maintenance +29%, Administration +58%, Nat Res/Public Lands +121%, and IT +90%.
The commissioners are now suggesting they can only provide for our safety (their most critical responsibility), if the citizens will give them more money in the form of a new “safety” tax. Are you getting the pattern here? They decimate the Sheriff Office budget, wait until the last day of the business year to enact their cuts, then they declare that a new tax is needed if we want a safe Montezuma County. Now we learn that their predicted property tax revenue reduction will be more than offset by huge increases in county property values which means we will pay more of our hard-earned money on property tax (see Cortez Journal [Housing] from January 10). Sounds like a manufactured false choice of our safety, or more of our money.
Evidently, we are supposed to believe the commissioners did not understand that we have a huge number of additional new property tax payers in Montezuma County over the last few years, and that they were unaware that property values have skyrocketed? These two facts will serve to heavily offset any potential reduction in revenue to the county. More home owners mean more property taxes will be generated. So rather than cut the Sheriff’s budget, they could and should have increased it.
This is not how to transparently run the county. Why not focus on the people who live here now and stop actively creating conditions for even greater population increases. The next time you hear the commissioners use the concocted term, “workforce housing” just remember, it’s a ruse. We don’t have the jobs to support all the people they are trying to bring here. Their priority has been to massively increase low-income housing using federal grant dollars (through DOLA) that do not have to be repaid! Your money!
It’s time for some major changes in how this county is being run and the commissioners need to either give us honest representation that is laser-focused on those who reside here now, or step aside and let some new blood get the job done for all of us.