BISBEE — Budget talks with the county’s elected officials kicked off Tuesday with a $20 million-plus proposed budget of the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office, which is close to $1 million more than the 2021–22 fiscal year.
Tuesday in a work session, Sheriff Mark Dannels said he supplied answers to a state legislator’s request for a list of unmet needs to address border security concerns. The team listed additional deputies, additional Arizona National Guard personnel, overtime, vehicles, jail costs for inmates committing border related crimes, optics and border camera equipment.
“This surge was confirmed by the increasing numbers of unlawful border crossers images being generated by our border camera system and border calls for service,” according to budget documents, Dannels said. Since July 1, the CCSO has apprehended 777 undocumented migrants.
In response, state legislators introduced two bills — House Bill 2893 and Senate Bill 1823 — to help border counties prevent human trafficking and stem the flow of unlawful border crossers into the U.S. along with contraband, including narcotics and other controlled substances.
The state provided $12 million to cover equipment, manpower, personnel costs, remote cameras and associated costs and related software programs, as well as a pilot program to reduce human trafficking. The funds also cover law enforcement overtime, imprisoning individuals charged with drug trafficking, human smuggling, illegal immigration and other border related crimes costs. The county has until June 30, 2025, to spend the funds.
Dannels suggested County Attorney Brian McIntyre might be looking to boost his budget as well due to the influx of cases of smuggling.
CCSO Chief of Staff Tom Alinen explained the need for a raise for CCSO deputies and staff to Supervisors Peggy Judd and Tom Crosby. Ann English was not present.
Alinen asked for an increase in the CCSO budget which would allow raising salaries and employee related expenses of deputies and administration staff by 5%. This will result in a $449,942 increase in the budget to come close to market level salaries.
Lt. Curtis Wilkins stated, “Five percent is a good compromise for us, but we’re still under market. We’ve lost 10 tenured deputies with 10 to 15 years of experience due to a $10,000 or $20,000 difference in salaries. With inflation at 8.5%, the 5% is fair.”
CCSO also requested a uniform allowance boost from $720 a year to $1,000 which would require an additional $46,480 for deputies and detention officers. Over the last decade, the basic cost for uniform shirt and pants have increased 30% to 40%.
New body armor for four members of the CCSO SWAT team in the sum of $16,000 was also requested. In the past, such equipment was funded by grants, but they are no longer available. Dannels set up a schedule in which the body armor would be changed out every four years, the age-out limit for the vests.
Like most law enforcement staff in comparable counties, it is getting more difficult to interest new prospects and retain trained deputies, said Dannels. A boost in wages could help retain deputies and prevent losing officers to the state’s larger counties and cities as well as the Arizona Department of Public Safety.
While Judd was appreciative of the work Dannels and his deputies have done and seemed to favor approving his request, Crosby suggested the “economy is tanking” so, Dannels needs to “tighten belts” and “basically, do more with less.”
Crosby said supposedly 61% of people live from paycheck to paycheck and the average household debt is $155,000. “Suppression of interest rates will wipe out the middle class.”
He suggested giving detention staff a raise and said he would support additional positions rather than pay so much overtime.
Dannels replied, “All of us work together. We’re a collective team.”
Crosby asked county budget manager Dan Duchon to look at census numbers and find the median household income for county residents between 2021 and 2022.
Judd said, “I know that public safety is important to my constituents. We’ve made that clear. It’s a very difficult thing to meet the needs of a rural area like we have. They want a strong Sheriff’s Department. We need to do what we can and I think this is fair and reasonable.”
The suggestion of raising detention officers salaries but not deputies did not sit well with Dannels. He asked how he was supposed to explain the raise for detention staff to his deputies and staff.
In an interview after the work session, Dannels said, “Last year, he didn’t vote for the budget for us. Once again, Supervisor Crosby does not want to help our staff. He’s obviously come out as a non-supporter of law enforcement. He’s rude. There were deputies in the room and he didn’t want to recognize our efforts and the work we’ve been doing. Once again, Tom Crosby disappoints us. It’s very hard to put up with this.”