Sheriff, DA hit up Republicans for support on sales tax increase

Mesa County Sheriff Matt Lewis pitches his need for 25 more deputies and 33 more people to work at the jail during a luncheon meeting Friday of the Mesa County Republican Party at the DoubleTree Hotel in Grand Junction. He is hoping for a sales tax hike to pay for them.



Mesa County Sheriff Matt Lewis and District Attorney Dan Rubinstein have been busy of late talking to as many groups as they can about the need for a special sales tax increase to help fund their public safety departments.

The two GOP elected officials, however, faced what many would believe to be their toughest crowd yet on Friday: the Mesa County Republican Party.

The response?

“I’ve never stood out in front of a tax increase,” Mesa County Commissioner Scott McInnis told about 50 people at the party’s monthly luncheon, after Lewis and Rubinstein made their plea for a measure to be placed on the ballot asking for the increase. “We’ve got to do it.”

Lewis and Rubinstein said they need more funding because of cuts to each of their agencies after the 2008 recession began, cuts that have not been restored, an increase in population and, more importantly, a dramatic spike in violent and property crimes.

Lewis said to combat the problem, and even to get ahead of it with more preventative policing, he needs 25 more deputies patrolling the county, and 33 more people working at the Mesa County Jail, which has gone from 300 average daily inmates to as high as 540 since 2011.

Currently, Lewis has 83 operational staff and 85 workers in the jail.

Rubinstein said he needs to get to 60 full-time employees, from the 46 in his office in 2016. He anticipates hiring six more lawyers, in addition to the 22 that are currently employed, if the funding comes through.

As a result, the two want to ask the voters for a 0.37 percent sales tax increase, a hike they expect will bring in an additional $7.1 million a year.

The commissioners have not yet voted on the matter.

Lewis and Rubinstein said the need for that funding is real.

“We’ve actually experienced over a 400 percent increase in violent crimes in Mesa County,” Lewis said. “At the same time, Delta, Montrose, Eagle and Garfield (counties) have experienced a downward trend in violent crime.”

One luncheon participant asked how much of that was because of people in the county illegally. While Lewis said he couldn’t say in general, based on the number of them held in his jail, they had little to do with that.

He said it’s more likely caused by a number of other factors, including the population increase and a sluggish economy in the Grand Valley.

While many in the room applauded the proposal, with some outright supporting it, one questioned it.

Kevin McCarney said there still are things in the county budget that could be cut, with that money being diverted to the sheriff’s and district attorney’s offices, such as money to the Museums of Western Colorado, the Orchard Mesa pool and to Colorado Mesa University.

McInnis, however, argued that he and commissioners John Justman and Rose Pugliese have done just about all they can to trim the budget, adding that the state’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights is limiting the amount of revenue they can take in.

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NOTE: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the number of prosecutors in the district attorney’s office.


COMMENTS

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The Sheriff’s office was gutted by 25-27 positions in 2014 by Hilkey before he left for his high paying state job. Hilkey did the following Sheriff, first Rebecca Spiess, then Matt Lewis, a huge disservice, complying with a request by the County Commissioners to reduce the force as a method to balance the Mesa County budget. How well did that work? It is time for this county to “man” up with the money to really support our Sheriff force.  Blue tape in the back window does not replace well trained, well equipped, rested and happy officers. We have to do this for the men and women that put their lives, literally, on the line for their community every time they are on DUTY.  The community owes them the honor and financial support they deserve.

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