New vehicles needed for Socorro County Sheriff’s Department

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The Socorro County Sheriff’s Department is “critically short” of patrol cars, officers said at Tuesday’s county commission meeting.

Under Sheriff Les Torres and Chief Deputy Sheriff Ed Sweeney said at minimum, the department needs seven reliable cars. And right now, they’re down to five.

“For example, we got a call that required a second officer, but that officer didn’t have a vehicle,” Sweeney said. “The officer responding was already on route, but had to turn around and pick up the second deputy. This slowed our response time considerably.”

Torres recounted a time recently when one of the department’s vehicles “died” driving up Sedillo Hill.

Sweeney said the fewer vehicles the department has, the more they are driven.

“Our vehicles are used in a harsh manner, in that they are driven an enormous amount of miles,” Sweeney said. “Yesterday I took five calls. For one I drove 80 miles. For another, 100 miles. We have a large county.”

He said on average, the cars are driven 35,000 to 40,000 miles per year, and the current mileage is 75,000 miles on the three Dodge Chargers, and from 122,000 to 250,000 on the two Ford Crown Vics.

The department’s transport car, which takes prisoners to and from jails in Grants, Hobbs, Carlsbad, Las Cruces, Las Vegas and other locations for court appearances in Socorro, has about 260,000 miles on the odometer, he said.

“Sheriff Montoya and I met with the mayor of Magdalena last week, who asked us to cover the municipality, because they now only have Marshal Larry Cearley,” Sweeney said. “The trips to Magdalena put more miles on the vehicles.”

Commission Chair Danny Monette suggested planning ahead.

Whoever the next sheriff is, he said, should go through the budget and “put in for two new vehicles every year.”

Torres said he had been in contact with with the New Mexico Motor Transportation Division in Santa Fe, which could sell the county two used vehicles for $2,500 each.

“They have miles on them but could get us over the hump,” Monette said. “This is clearly a public safety issue. It will be an item on the next meeting’s agenda”

County Manager Delilah Walsh said the money could be moved from the general fund to the sheriff’s department with the commission’s approval.

She said the department and jail are “more than half our budget.”

In other business, Socorro County Senior Center Director Lewis Auerbach reported that he had compiled the results of a survey taken by seniors at the three facilities operated by the county: Socorro, Magdalena and the Northern Socorro County Senior Center in Veguita.

The first section of the survey dealt with home-delivered meals.

“I can say, based on the responses of the survey we administered a couple of weeks ago, we are doing a good job,” Auerbach said. “Especially (in regards to) the quality of the food and the drivers.”

According to the results, home-delivered meals were considered to be “good or excellent” by 85 percent; the courtesy of the drivers received a 100 percent approval rating.

“The written comments were mostly favorable,” Auerbach said.

As for the meals served at the Senior Centers, the overall approval rating was essentially the same, Auerbach said. And written comments were, again, mostly favorable.

He said center in Magdalena, which received an 81 percent approval rating, “seems to be seeing problems with the lunches”

Most of the complaints focus on the fact that some of the cooking is done in Socorro and not entirely done in Magdalena.

“The Area Agency on Aging has said you can’t prepare food at every site,” Auerbach said. “We have to economize. We’re trying to save money for the county and all the senior centers, and we’re not getting any more money and have to make it more efficient. We’ve had a 33 percent rise in our food costs.”

Commissioner Juan Gonzales said people want the food cooked there, in Magdalena.

“They think it’s more expensive to deliver the food up there,” he said.

Auerbach said said Rose Wellborn, the site manager, does prepare some of the meals at the site, including noodles, rice, salads and deserts.

“Most are satisfied with the food coming up there,” he said.

He said Wellborn now has more time to do what the site manager should be doing – “like making sure the seniors are being taken care of in areas of public healthcare services and general quality of living” as well as keeping up with paperwork for the county and state.