PARK COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — A staffing crisis is hitting law enforcement hard in Park County, forcing the sheriff’s office to ax overnight patrols starting Wednesday because they don’t have enough deputies.

Sheriff Thomas McGraw said a severe staffing shortage forced him to cut the night shift. Patrols will stop from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. and deputies will only respond to emergencies.

“Last week, we had two more resign on the patrol side,” McGraw said. “So, I am down to eight patrol deputies.”

With his department dwindling, McGraw is fighting hard for more money. He told FOX31 that he currently has eight deputies and would like to see the office with at least 18.

However, McGraw said that according to a study conducted by the county two years ago, a full staff would require 27 deputies based on the population. McGraw estimates the county at roughly 18,000 people and there are currently only eight patrol deputies.

He said the new change will impact Park County residents.

“They won’t be responding to that barking dog call. It’s aggravating, but it’s not necessary. The call that somebody’s car got broken into, that will wait,” McGraw said. “If there’s a major traffic crash, it’s a possibility they will come depending on how the (Colorado State Patrol) troopers are doing.”

Deputies only on call overnight as pay proves an issue

McGraw said two deputies will be on call overnight and only respond to emergency calls, like burglary or domestic violence, but residents can expect a wait of one to two hours. McGraw said surrounding jurisdictions can help with calls if they have the staff available, but the wait will increase for country residents because of travel time and availability.

He also said Colorado State Patrol helps with major accidents, but they are short-staffed as well. McGraw added the county has many visitors, and reckless driving is a big offense that may not be monitored the same, along with cars sliding out and drunk driving.

“The big issue is we don’t have enough funding to hire more people,” McGraw told FOX31. “Our starting salary is extremely low.”

Park County deputies start at $48,000 and McGraw wants to see that number increase to $59,000. He said the problem with retention and hiring is the office isn’t offering a competitive salary. McGraw said they hire rookies and spend time training them, but soon after they leave to work in neighboring departments that offer thousands more in salary. He said Park County can’t compete right now with what they’re offering.

“After a year or two somebody down in the Denver area says ‘hey, come down here and I’ll pay you $20,000 more and I don’t blame these young people for doing that,” McGraw said. “You can’t blame them for that, but we have to invest in our people.”

The sheriff said he’s been pleading with county commissioners for the past two years to invest more money for salaries. McGraw did acknowledge a 10% raise deputies recently received, bumping the starting salary from $43,000 to $48,000, but he said it did nothing for hiring.

Applications to the Park County Sheriff’s Office can be made here.

Sheriff asks for budget increase for salaries

The sheriff’s office is now facing an emergency due to critical staffing shortages. McGraw went before all three county commissioners on Tuesday asking for more funding in the budget.

“We need to do everything we can to keep them here. The ones here want to be here. They could work anywhere in the state of Colorado and they choose Park County. There are numerous occasions we’ve only had two deputies working the entire county,” McGraw told commissioners.

During the meeting, tensions rose as McGraw made his point. Commissioners interrupted him saying, “Stop repeating yourself. To be honest with you, when you get up and keep lecturing us on the same issues, we get a little tired of it.”

Dick Elsner, a county commissioner, got emotional and said they want to find a solution but simply don’t have the means.

“We flat out don’t have the money to be able to do what we would like to do,” Elsner said. “I don’t know what we can do because we just don’t have the money.”

After the heated moments, the sheriff and commissioners agreed to meet and crunch numbers, but both agree that still won’t be enough. McGraw said the commissioners have supported law enforcement and salary increases, but the funding is not there.

Both parties are working to get a penny sales tax back on the November ballot after being shot down in the past. McGraw said he’s advocated for that tax to pass, but a majority of residents haven’t voted in favor of it. He said a sales tax would be added to short-term rentals among other things, but not groceries or gas. The tax money would go directly to the sheriff’s office and add millions annually.

McGraw told FOX31 that Park County residents can expect to vote on the tax in November and encourages anyone with questions on the tax to call the office and talk with him to understand the value and what it really means.

Commissioner Elsner spoke to FOX31 on the phone on Tuesday and said he has advocated for the sales tax for three years. Each time it’s been voted against by residents, saying that just 44% voted yes last year.

“People get the government they pay for. We really want to help them and will do everything we can,” Elsner told FOX31.