Public safety measure going to county voters
Mesa County voters will decide in November whether to raise sales taxes by 0.37 cents on the dollar to pump up the budgets of the sheriff’s and district attorney’s offices, as well as 14 other agencies.
The Mesa County Commission voted unanimously Monday to refer Ballot Measure 1A to the Nov. 7 election after hearing from a lineup of supporters, most of whom stressed their own fiscal conservatism while urging the commission to support the proposed tax increase.
Commissioner John Justman was one of them, noting that he campaigned a year ago for re-election promising that he would oppose new taxes.
“Public safety was one of my priorities also,” though, Justman said, noting that authorities are now dealing with 20 homicides in various stages of the process, from investigation to incarceration to prosecution.
Legalization of marijuana also hasn’t delivered on the promise of allowing for legal transactions at the expense of illicit and dangerous dealings, Justman claimed, noting that authorities still regularly make drug-related arrests within the county.
“We have to put it to the people and let the people decide what to do,” Justman said.
The tax is projected to generate nearly $7.2 million annually. The commission’s resolution calls for the Sheriff’s Office to receive 67.29 percent of the new revenues, with the District Attorney’s Office getting 16.83 percent. The remainder is to be divided among 14 other agencies, including the city of Grand Junction.
The commission in this year’s budget was able to put the Sheriff’s and District Attorney’s Offices in a “safe harbor” with no cuts even while other county departments absorbed reductions aimed at boosting the ranks of deputies and the DA’s staff, Commissioner Scott McInnis said.
“We can’t give them another safe harbor” in the 2018 budget, McInnis said.
“We have exhausted all the budgetary options,” District Attorney Dan Rubinstein told the commission.
Voter approval of a new tax for public safety is “precisely why TABOR exists,” he said, referring to the Colorado constitution’s requirement of voter approval for new taxes.
If voters approve the measure, the county will draft a budget that takes into account the new revenues as 2018 begins. The sheriff and district attorney would see the new revenues after the first two months of the year.
If the question loses, the county will have to draft a budget based on the county’s existing 2 percent sales tax and no new revenues for any agency.
The commission’s vote followed presentations by Rubinstein and Sheriff Matt Lewis, as well as several supporters, many of them Republican activists who said they were fiscal conservatives who supported the sales-tax increase.
“We need to put crime out of business,” said Gary Roahrig, a former Mesa County Republican Party chairman who is working with the organization supporting the measure, Back the Badge For Public Safety.
Crime is a growing issue and the county must deal with it, said Ruth Ehlers, a GOP activist.
“This county just isn’t what it used to be,” she said.
The tax is aimed at replacing positions lost in 2010, when the county had to deal with the loss of tax revenues from the Great Recession.
The sales tax increase appears to be the best approach because it’s paid by residents and visitors, Commissioner Rose Pugliese said.
“Everyone pays alike,” Pugliese said.