Time to innovate
As Sunday’s page 1 centerpiece story indicated, the Mesa County sheriff and the 21st Judicial District Attorney’s Office are prepared to ask for a bigger slice of a shrinking county budget.
Both agencies make a compelling case for greater funding. For years, due to recession-driven budget pressures, both the sheriff’s office and the DA have done more with less. Now both are saying that they’ll be forced to do less with less if something doesn’t change.
Certainly the sheriff and the DA understand that more money for their departments means cuts to other areas. As the Sentinel’s Gary Harmon reported, the county anticipates decreased revenue of $1.5 million in 2017, while the wish lists of the sheriff and DA represent $4.77 million in increased spending to hire more personnel.
Neither expects the county to fully fund his request. Rather, they’re hoping commissioners recognize the dangers that a reactive style of law enforcement poses to public safety and respond accordingly.
In essence, commissioners are being forced to return to the fundamental question: what is the role of government? The sheriff and the DA are asking them to prioritize public safety by committing to a long-term strategy to get funding levels where they need to be.
For the sheriff, that’s a ratio of 1.5 deputies per 1,000 residents of unincorporated Mesa County. For the DA, it’s more staff to keep abreast of a rising caseload and match efforts with public defenders. Mesa County’s DA office is one of only a handful of Colorado prosecutors’ offices that are funded a lower level than the public defender’s office.
Commissioner Scott McInnis described staffing levels as “an emergency situation,” but Commissioner John Justman doesn’t want to eat into the fund balance. Commissioner Rose Pugliese has said she won’t support reducing contributions to Colorado Mesa University or economic development.
The situation calls for some innovative thinking. Mesa County has not de-Bruced any of its current revenues — one of the few entities to not do so in Colorado. Pugliese says TABOR is not our problem — a lack of revenues is. “How about we find the revenues we need to make TABOR a problem?” she said in a recent interview with the Sentinel’s editorial board.
Yet commissioners are reluctant to put a measure on the ballot to allow retail marijuana operations, despite the fact that we’re already dealing with all the negative impacts of the legal trade. If they won’t consider the revenue from recreational pot, how about a dedicated sales tax to fund law enforcement?
The budget deliberations are coming as voters consider whether to change the makeup of the board of commissioners. The incumbents have a difficult task of deciding how to fund law enforcement adequately without raiding the fund balance or slashing spending. Jobs are on the line. Hopefully the question serves as a springboard for improving revenues instead of squeezing blood from a turnip.