Voters in El Paso County can expect to see a measure on the November ballot regarding a sales and usage tax increase. The measure proposes a .0023 percent increase in sales tax county-wide, which would amount to an increase of about $17 million annually.
The purpose of the increase is to directly fund the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office for needs the sheriff outlined at the EPC Board of County Commissioners and the Citizens Budget Oversight Committee this past summer.
During his presentation Aug. 30, Sheriff Terry Maketa said there are three main areas of concern that the ballot measure addresses, including but not limited to the following: “the safety of the sheriff’s deputies on patrol; maintaining a safe and secure facility; and addressing the county’s practice of taking advantage of those loyal deputies who are working hours and not reporting it because they don’t want to leave their peers – their teammates – out on the streets, one man down.”
Maketa said his main priority is law enforcement staffing. In his presentation to the CBOC and the BOCC, Maketa requested 40 full-time patrol deputies and 14 full-time citizen support staff. “We haven’t seen an increase in patrol since 1990,” Maketa said. “The county population grew 50 percent from 1990 to 2006. In 2006, in the unincorporated areas the population was 140,000 and now it’s 172,000.
“Law enforcement tries to strive to have two officers per thousand people.”
In a recent interview, Maketa said, “Our starting point isn’t even one per thousand because that would put us at 172 on the road. We are asking from 60 to 100 on the road.”
The next priority is staffing at the criminal justice center, Maketa said. In his presentation to the county, he requested 42 full-time CJC floor security staff and 14 full-time civilian support staff. “In 2002, we had 26 positions cut from our office from the jail and the patrol,” he said. “In 2009 we lost another 29.
“Assaults on our staff in our jail are up 50 to 60 percent just in 2012.”
The infrastructure of the CJC itself is in need of repair because of age, Maketa said.
He also requested overtime pay. In an interview with The New Falcon Herald, Maketa said, “We like to see 40 percent of an officer’s time occupied with calls for service, 40 percent spent on administrative duties and 20 percent on other officer initiated activity. Right now, 60 to 70 percent of their time is occupied by calls or follow-ups, and they have told me that they have to do the administrative stuff at home because they don’t have time to do them at work.
“My only option is to continue to go to the BOCC and get the resources I need.”
With so few deputies on staff, Maketa said he can’t allow them to take time off because there is no one to fill in the shifts.
“The county has an obligation to provide reasonable funding, and reasonable minds can have different opinions about what that means,” said Amy Folsom, county attorney.
Maketa said his main question is this: “Does the BOCC have the money to fund the sheriff’s needs? I’ve heard them say they can’t. If the answer is no, this needs to go to the ballot.”
“The sheriff does not have the legal authority to put a ballot measure on the ballot, and the only entity that can is the BOCC,” Folsom said. For that to happen, the measure needed to go through two separate readings by the BOCC before it could be referred to the ballot, she said.
Upon hearing the first reading, Commissioner Sally Clark said, “The patrol piece is very important to the community. I believe you’ve (Maketa) needed the money for a long time but at this time, I think you’ve made a case for it.
The first reading was passed in a 4-1 vote, with direction to Folsom to provide revised language for the second reading. Commissioner Darryl Glenn opposed the movement. Glenn said, “If I refer a measure to the ballot that means I support it. I’m not going to support this because I disagree with the approach.”
On Sept. 6, the BOCC heard the second reading of the measure with the appropriate revisions, and approved the measure for the November ballot in a 4-1 vote, with Glenn opposed.
“He (Maketa) posed the question, ‘Does the board have the funds to be able to satisfy his statutory requirements,” Glenn told the NFH. “If you accept that premise, it’s easy. But it really isn’t. We do have a requirement, but we don’t have all the funds.
“Sales tax is based on whether or not you have discretionary income and most people do not. Tourism can help with that but we’re coming off one of the worst tourism hits we’ve had in a while. Our tourism is way down. A lot of people feel that El Paso County and Colorado Springs burned to the ground. We’re at a competitive disadvantage. I don’t think we want to put a headline out there, ‘come to EPC, we just raised our sales tax.’ I believe this is the absolute worst time to stimulate the economy by raising taxes.”
Commissioner Amy Lathen, District 2 representative, approved the measure because she believes the people should decide.
“The sheriff has been identifying these problems in his budget for several years and has always identified those groups of needs,” Lathen said. “He’s been very consistent with the money he needed.
“I am more than willing, and have from the beginning, supported the question going to the ballot. That is his only access to the people. We have to refer it. We simply do not have the money to reallocate that amount of money.”