A solution to increase county funding must be found
Occasionally, my duties as an International Man of Mystery require me to be cut off from local developments for a period of time, so catching up quickly is essential.
I was reading news online about the efforts of the Mesa County Sheriff and District Attorney to put together an issue for the voters to decide on a funding mechanism targeted at those agencies for law enforcement, prosecution and detention. Presently they are in the process of determining how to make a request for the voters, as allowed by Colorado’s Taxpayers Bill Of Rights.
Presently, the mechanism is angling towards a 0.37-cent sales tax increase as part of the county’s percentage of the total sales tax collections.
I’m somewhat biased as a large portion of my professional career was with those two agencies and others like them. However, putting that aside and looking purely at the financial situation of the county and those agencies in comparison to the criminal justice situation we find ourselves marinated in, I believe a solution to increase county funding needs to be found.
As many of you know, in Colorado, county budgets are funded predominantly through property taxes. The county isn’t even the largest consumer of them. That privilege belongs to the school district.
Additionally, unlike municipalities, counties are more constrained in the uses for the money they receive, with much of it tied directly to capital improvement projects and so forth. Municipalities traditionally have had more flexibility in budgeting and use of their money than afforded the county structure.
Therefore, as I was reading the article I came across the suggestion that the city of Grand Junction wants to receive one-half million dollars from this earmarked increase in county sales tax, ostensibly because it runs the countywide dispatch center.
The city’s mayor this cycle is Councilman Rick Taggart, who I find to be an all-around great guy. He was quoted as saying, “I want to be supportive of the county because of the fact that it’s in a pretty extreme situation. I’m hoping we can continue to talk” about the city’s share, “but I’m not overly optimistic.”
I am in agreement with much of his statement as I think the chances of a bigger city share should be about the same as the county receiving a portion of the city’s sales tax revenue.
The city running the county’s dispatch center by itself is a peculiarity; of the 57 local 911 governing authorities, ours seems to be the only one on the list not run under county authority.
This error was created in the 1970s, I believe, when the county, in a terrific mistake, ceded authority over the dispatch center to the city. While the 911 Board of Directors is made up of seven heads of various emergency service providers, the employees and their supervision are the responsibility of the city and three of the seven board members are city employees.
Additionally, a fee/surcharge is collected on each phone bill in this jurisdiction for the benefit of the dispatch center. The last figures I saw were from a 2015 study by the Colorado Public Interest Research Group and they indicated that each monthly bill paid $1.30 towards that fund, which is tied at the sixth highest of the 57 in the state.
This is substantially higher than sleepy backwaters like the city and county of Denver which was at 70 cents and Arapahoe County, that little wide spot in the road with 630,000 people at 43 cents. The city also has the distinction of being one of the 911 jurisdictions whose fee has nearly doubled since 1998.
Moreover, jurisdictions and agencies utilizing the dispatch center pay a fee, or did last I heard, based on their calls for service dispatched from the center.
So, one question is, who’s filling Mayor Taggart’s head with this notion of needing a “cut” of sheriff- and District Attorney-based proceeds? Because I’m not certain this has much to do with the dispatch center at all. Those are great people over there and no matter how much they get paid, it’s not enough, but there’s no guarantee this money would ever end up there. Or if it did, that an equal amount wouldn’t be backed out of the budget for some other super duper idea. The city hasn’t had a winning horse in the tax raising race for a long time and it seems they might be trying to ride someone else’s pony across the finish line because people think that horse has a good idea.