Newly elected MV council members sworn in

RG County sheriff seeks letter of support for new jail

MONTE VISTA — Newly elected Monte Vista City Councilors Loren Howard and Brad Watson were sworn in on Jan. 4 at the Monte Vista City Hall.

Howard, who served some of a prior term on council, by stepping in for Larry Foster when he left, was officially elected to retain the seat. Watson received the second most votes during the 2023 election.

In other matters, Rio Grande County Sherriff Anne Robinson was also at the meeting seeking a letter from the council to help obtain a new jail facility.

“Our average population has gone up a little bit in the last 5 years,” she said during her presentation. “Obviously with COVID in 20, and 21, we had reduced numbers of inmates.”

Robinson said they have beds for 53 inmates but consider themselves full at 49 inmates. On average last year, the facility was run with about 42 inmates housed per month.

Robinson also spoke about the maintenance and repairs bills of the building, and different state mandates that are calling for updates in the building.

“Our bills have increased significantly. The older part of our jail is 70-plus years old. The new portion of the facility which is our C-pod, is about 25 years old and things are failing. We just went through ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds in the amount of about $400,000 to put a new roof on our building.”

Robinson said the average maintenance cost for the jail is around $35,000 a year and it’s going up because the plumbing systems are failing, and the HVAC system needs replacement.

“We also need to expand our facility to include state mandates, which call for visitation facilities for full contact family members, education,” Robinson said. “We are in need of a medical ward. We need to isolate people that come in with some significant communicable diseases.”

Robinson said people with behavioral health issues also need their own space as they tend to get picked on by other inmates in jail and then act out. She said that though they have a jail nurse, they need a new facility where she can conduct her duties in private and isolate specific inmates that need it.

Robinson said she anticipates the number of people incarcerated will be rising. She stated that the department is seeking funding through grants to build a 130-bed facility.

“We anticipate that we will likely fill that as we are housing Saguache County and Mineral County inmates, and several parolees on the short term on holds, until they are placed in DOC or come up for their revocation hearing,” she said.

Robinson also had grant writer Nancy Lake, who is the Rio Grande County attorney, speak about the grant process and what she is doing to try to obtain grants for the department.

“This is our third year of begging for money from the federal government mostly, but we will be looking for state funds as well,” Lake said. “The price tag has gone from $43 million to $58 million.”

Lake explained that in addition to the 130-bed facility they are looking at obtaining a classroom to help inmates obtain their GED. They are also looking at a 20-bed youth wing separate from the adult community, that would have access to family visitation. They are looking at a 6-bed mental health ward with padded cells, and an 8-bed medical ward.

“In designing this new facility, we will not only take care of the Rio Grande population, but the Saguache population, and Mineral County population, with their holds, and we would also be available for the overflow from other places as well,” Lake added.

Robinson explained that they were not seeking any financial help from the City of Monte Vista, just a letter of support to help obtain a grant for the facility.

Robinson said more and more counties are closing their jails, and some counties don’t have jails at all. Robinson said statutorily they are required to have a jail.

“However, if you can’t hire the staff, or you don’t have the people to support that jail, or your facility has become so degraded so much that you can’t keep it open, or keep it safe, you have to look to other places to house inmates,” she said.

The council voted unanimously to write a letter of support for the sheriff.

The next City Council meeting will be held at 6 p.m. on Jan. 18, City Hall in Monte Vista.