Recently the annexation of Airport Rd. and other areas of Santa Fe County has hit the City Council Agenda. It usually comes up around City Election Time and has become a bi-annual occurrence. Every current City Councilor and any candidate who has run in the last ten to twelve years has had to answer that question in a forum. The newest resolution working its way through the City Public Works Committee and now before the Council was written by Councilor Miguel Chavez. He has been pushing for large scale annexation for some time and he has definitely come closer than any previous councilor to getting annexations done.
I was watching the last City Council meeting where they were discussing the resolution and became so upset over some of the comments made that I actually had to wait a few days to let myself calm down before I wrote about this. During the hearing Councilor Chavez read from an article where State Police were listed as taking part in a sting operation along Airport Road which netted 34 arrests. Councilor Chavez used this article to state that the County was unable to provide police protection and therefore the State Police had to step in. This is completely untrue. The operation was initially a joint operation between multiple agency's including the Santa Fe County Sheriff's office and State Police. Due to our investigators working on two homicide investigations and problems I had with the parameters of the operation we decided to postpone our involvement. The State Police decided to continue on the dates originally planned and our warrants agents assisted the State Police with approximately 30 warrants that were outstanding with people living in the area. 13 of the 34 arrests were made off of those warrants.
The Airport Road area is a high population, High crime area and we do get many complaints in the area. The district is assigned double the number of patrol deputies than that of other districts in Santa Fe County. However, in the annexation issue City Officials have greatly exaggerated the crime stats and how many officers will be needed to patrol the area. The City has stated that the area accounts for anywhere from 60 to 80 percent of the total calls for the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office. This is greatly exaggerated. When the City of Santa Fe asked for our statistics approximately two years ago we clearly told them that the district which includes Airport Road and actually extends well beyond the proposed annexation area accounts for 20 to 30% of our total call volume. If narrowed down to just the proposed annexation area another 5 to 7% reduction in those numbers could be expected. The district is covered twenty four hours a day, seven days a week with twelve deputies total. The City is proposing thirty or more officers to cover the area. Don't get me wrong I could use another 30 deputies and maybe if I was in the position the city police are in I would use this as an opportunity to try and gain more officers. I just wish the city would not resort to bashing the county in its deliberations on this matter.
The City Police now serve the entire city with 137 officers they currently have on staff. The City Police is allotted 155 positions total but they currently have 18 vacancies. Therefore they are trying to state that the annexation proposal which is a total of 14,000 acres (much of it outside of the Airport Road area is vacant land) will require a 20% increase in the size of the Police Department in order to police this area. The Sheriff's Office has an authorized strength of 72 with 2 current vacancies with which we cover 2000 square miles. When you base the numbers on population we should have 100 deputies for a population the size of Santa Fe County. I throw all these numbers out only to point out that the city's estimates of Police needed seem highly exaggerated. Normally I would not criticize a fellow police agency trying to add more police on the streets but when they do that while at the same time criticizing our ability to handle the area I find that unnecessary and mean spirited.
The county E.M.S. and Fire are often unfairly criticized as well. City officials and Fire Union officials in the City often state that the city is responding to all the county calls in the Airport Road area without any compensation. The fact of the matter is that There has been a long standing Memorandum of Understanding which states that the closest fire or E.M.S. unit will respond to an emergency regardless of jurisdiction. It also states that both city and county will cover for each other or back each other up when the need arises. The County often responds in the City when there is no city ambulance available or when the situation looks like multiple units need to respond. This occurs every day on both the city and the county side. The county actually agreed to give the city a portion of its impact fees from development in the Airport road area and negotiations for having that come to fruition have been tied up between the city and county for three years or more. A good friend of mine once told me " people don't care whose badge is on the side of the ambulance or police car that responds only that the help comes quickly". I have personally instructed my deputies that any time we are unsure of jurisdiction to work that out later and just immediately respond to the call and stabilize the situation.
Finally amogst all the county bashing that has been going on at the city on this issue is the blame game for how we got into this mess particularly in the Airport Road area. As a resident of Fairway Village which is located between Airport Road and Agua Fria I have often been frustrated with the planning or lack of planning for growth in this area. The city annexes properties that they feel are beneficial tax wise causing the checkerboard of boundaries in this area. They make no attempt to mitigate the problems caused by annexing in this fashion and then blame the county for the problems caused by this lack of planning. How can the county be to blame for the current state of problems with the checkerboard boundaries ? The county does not annex properties the city does. The Airport Road area is a problem and even though some county officials oppose annexation I do not. Consistent policy's and planning need to be set up and the best way to achieve consistency is by having one entity deal with the area. Its not about getting rid of problem areas as some city councilors have stated but rather about doing what's best for citizens in the area. The Sheriff's Office has the resources to deal with the Airport Road area and has been doing so since Airport Rd was a dirt road whose soul purpose was to get people to the Airport which used to be way outside of town. We will continue to provide good service to these residences regardless of whether the annexation goes thorough or not.