Support the sales tax hike for public safety

Commissioners on Monday will formally propose a countywide sales tax increase to fund public safety — a ballot measure to generate $7.2 million that the Mesa County sheriff and the district attorney have been shopping to voters over the summer.

It was their idea. They’ve made a convincing case that failure to pass a question authorizing the .37-percent sales tax hike will mean losing more ground against crime in this community.

Rarely a week passes that readers don’t complain about the crime headlines in this newspaper — ample evidence that law enforcement is strained to the point of emboldening criminal activity.

When deputies are bouncing from one 911 call to the next, it dilutes “the perception of risk” so vital to preventing crime.

“We’re going call to call without any proactive community involvement,” Sheriff Matt Lewis told the Sentinel’s editorial board last month. “We’re not preventing anything. We’re showing up and we’re doing a great job of writing down what happened to you. That’s what we’ve become. It’s not who we should be or who we want to be.”

After years of being told to submit flat or reduced budgets amid the county’s ongoing fiscal challenges, Lewis and District Attorney Dan Rubinstein decided something had to change — even after commissioners cut every other department’s budget to give their offices more money.

As the Sentinel’s Gary Harmon reported, a key feature of the ballot measure is that the proceeds dedicated to the sheriff and prosecution offices provide a base level of funding, leaving both offices to compete as they always have with other county departments for their shares of the county’s general fund, which this year amounted to $57 million.

Lewis and Rubinstein initially considered a proposal that would generate additional revenues without reducing existing levels of funding. But it raised a question whether voters can remove the constitutional authority that commissioners have over the budget process — the only check commissioners have over the elected sheriff and DA.

While we’d prefer a guarantee that revenues from the tax hike will plump up the budgets of the sheriff and DA, we agree with Rubinstein’s admonition to not let “perfect be the enemy of good.” Commissioners risk their own political futures by not living up to the intent of the ballot measure, which is to give the sheriff and the DA the additional resources they need to ensure public safety.

The request is not an “overask.” Even with additional resources, the sheriff and the DA will still have staffing levels far below similar jurisdictions in Colorado. It simply gets them closer to where they should be after years of cuts.

Essentially we’ve deferred maintenance on our law enforcement agencies, not unlike what’s happened to our schools. Public safety and public education are core government services. Both deserve the public’s support for adequate funding.


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