By any measure and perception, the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department and the District Attorney’s office need more money.
The sheriff and the DA are making the rounds, explaining to various civic and political groups how budgets cuts in response to recessionary forces haven’t been restored, leaving both departments short-staffed at a time when violent crimes and property crimes are rising precipitously.
The goal of these informational sessions is to make the case for a 0.37 percent special sales tax, which they expect will bring in an additional $7.1 million a year.
The case is well made. Voters will decide whether to tax themselves more to have an adequate law enforcement presence in this community. But it didn’t have to come to this. It shouldn’t have to come to this.
Fealty to the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights by a succession of county commissioners has put the county in a strange place. We simply find it astonishing that in a highly conservative, anti-tax environment — which has driven the dialogue on the county’s fiscal policy — that commissioners are supporting a tax hike instead of de-Brucing or addressing the downward ratcheting effect of the TABOR’s mill-levy limitation.
Either of those moves might allow the county — without raising taxes — to get out these desperate fiscal straits by keeping more revenue and investing in important programs, like law enforcement.
When the sheriff and the DA made their pitch to local Republicans, Mesa County Commissioner Scott McInnis argued that he and his fellow commissioners have done just about all they can do to trim the budget, but that TABOR is limiting the amount of revenue they can take in.
Yes, that’s true, but only because current commissioners and their predecessors have refused to avail themselves of tools that are supposed to prevent TABOR from leading to a reduction in services. What kind of semantic mincing has to occur for commissioner to feel justified in asking for a tax increase, but not empowered to advocate for changes that would head one off?
We make these points, not to undermine the argument for the special tax, but with an eye on the future. Mesa County is one of only three counties in the state that hasn’t de-Bruced in some form or another. The results speak for themselves.
Before the next special tax comes to the fore, how about commissioners spend time calculating what various de-Brucing scenarios would net the taxpayers and how those savings would translate into services?
We’ve already seen the county forgo a $5 million state grant that it would have allocated toward construction of a psychiatric hospital expansion project. Why? Even though it’s merely a pass-through, the money would have counted TABOR revenue limits, putting the county in line for taxpayer rebates when it can’t even cover its most pressing needs.
Commissioners should make de-Brucing a policy priority. To ignore the fiscal implications and continue to embrace TABOR orthodoxy — all the while removing opportunities because of revenue caps — is government malpractice. It always has been.