The Valencia County Commission unanimously approved adding a new lieutenant position to the Valencia County Sheriff’s Office.
Valencia County Sheriff Denise Vigil said the department has a very young group of deputies and sergeants. There are two sergeants eligible to be a lieutenant — one with 10 years and one with 15 years experience — Vigil said, and the other sergeants, as well as the deputies, have less than five years on the job.
“Within the next five years, we have the potential for the entire command staff to be eligible for retirement, which would wipe out our command staff,” Vigil said. “The plan now is to build structure for the future.
“We are hoping to get a lieutenant on board to work graveyard and guide and help those shifts, that way the day-time lieutenant can perform the necessary tasks without having to manage staff and sergeants on graveyard.”
Undersheriff Jeff Noah said in 2021 there have been four or five retirements from VCSO, more than any other year.
“All in one year has put our experience level way down,” Noah said. “We’ve had a lot of high-profile cases. These young guys are doing a great job, making decisions about life and death, so we’d like to put someone with them who has a little more experience.”
Valencia County Manager Danny Monette said in conversations with the sheriff, she had conveyed there have been a few situations where the department was understaffed, which leaves it and the county vulnerable.
“This is putting people in a bad spot and puts us at a lot more risk in terms of insurance,” Monette said. “This will support law enforcement in a positive way. I think the position is needed and we do have the money in the budget for the position, and you all know how I hate to spend money.”
The annual salary for a lieutenant is about $97,529, and the county commission would need to approve a budget adjustment for the sheriff’s office for $48,764 to fund the position for the remainder of the fiscal year.
Commissioner Joseph Bizzell asked if the job search would be done within the department or would the sheriff recruit from other agencies. Vigil said it was her goal to always promote from within.
Bizzell asked if that would create a problem finding deputies to fill the lower ranks.
“This position might be able to draw qualified people from another agency that doesn’t take someone off street,” he said.
Noah said that was something they could explore after talking with the county’s attorneys since the sheriff’s office does have a collective bargaining unit.
County attorney Adren Nance said policy and procedure in the county personnel handbook called for the position to be advertised inside and outside the department, unless the department was going through the promotion process. He also noted lieutenants with the department were not part of the collective bargaining unit.
Vigil said the department advertises positions internally for five days before opening the up to the outside.
In other business at the Dec. 15 meeting, the commissioners:
- Approved the indigent report with 10 medical claims and the December adult detention center medical services contract payment, for a total of $25,404.67.
- Approved a resolution supporting the New Mexico Counties Board of Directors 2022 legislative priorities, which include House Bill 2 appropriations, the Law Enforcement Protection Fund and courthouse funding.
- Approved a one-year lease with TNT Investments for office space for the 13th Judicial District Attorney’s offices. The lease is for space at the Wells Fargo building in Belen for $15,050.17 a month, an annual total of $180,602.04. The county has been leasing this space for the DA since 2007.
- Approved the adoption of the Older Americans Program Advisory Council bylaws.
- Approved accounts payable checks issued from Nov. 19 through Dec. 2, 2021, in the total amount of $482,177.13.
- Approved payroll payments for the pay period from Oct. 30 through Nov. 12, 2021, in the amount of $613,142.64.
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.