Sheriff, commissioner split on traffic enforcement
Hilkey wants more deputies for enforcement; Meis wary of expansion
Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey and County Commissioner Craig Meis disagree about how big the county’s new traffic enforcement team should be.
In its 2009 budget, the Mesa County Commission approved funds to hire, train and equip two deputies for the new traffic team, which is due to hit the streets later this year.
But earlier this week, Hilkey asked commissioners for permission to apply for a three-year, $470,424 federal grant that would let him hire three more deputies for the traffic squad. The grant is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. If the grant request is approved, the county still would be on the hook for training of the new deputies and for equipment such as squad cars, guns and training.
Meis voted against the sheriff’s request, but it passed with the approval of Commissioners Steve Acquafresca and Janet Rowland.
“I am very concerned with growing, or at least running with this program, before we have learned to crawl,” Meis said in objection. “I cannot justify us continuing to grow the Sheriff’s Office.”
Traffic, according to recent county surveys of residents, consistently has been one of the top concerns of residents, Hilkey told Meis.
“I think there is a lot of angst in our community that we don’t do traffic enforcement,” Hilkey said. “This can be a very positive thing for our county.”
Meis expressed concern after Hilkey told the board the traffic unit should be able to pay for itself through tickets it issues. Hilkey said it is being made clear to deputies that citations are to be issued only when it is a matter of safety and to prevent accidents.
Clifton was thrown into the mix, too. As the most populated region of the county moves toward either annexation into Grand Junction or becoming its own city, the Sheriff’s Department’s days of patrolling there may be drawing to a close.
Meis said he did not see the sense in expanding a department that may be charged with doing far less in the near future.
Rowland shot down Meis’ final point, saying changes to Clifton would be phased in over time.
Deputies for traffic enforcement are needed now and will still be needed in the future, she said.
Rowland added that just like the three commissioners, Hilkey was popularly elected to his position.
“I think we should let him do his job as sheriff,” she said.
The Sheriff’s Department should learn sometime this summer whether it will receive the grant.