Sheriff Terry Maketa knew his course of action wouldn’t be popular but said the needs in his office are so great that he had no choice but to ask voters for a tax increase.
“It’s the last two years I’ll be in office, so why would I bring this on myself if I didn’t think it was absolutely critical?” Maketa said. “My needs are real and I have statutory responsibilities. I feel like I have no choice.”
In late August, Maketa asked El Paso County commissioners to place his tax measure on the ballot and they complied.
If ballot question 1A passes, the tax increase is expected to generate approximately $16.3 million to fund urgent needs in the sheriff’s office, primarily staffing and equipment. The proposed sales tax increase is twenty-three hundredths of one cent ($0.0023) per dollar, which would add 2.3 cents to a $10 purchase or 23 cents to a $100 purchase.
The tax would end, or sunset, after eight years.
The tax will hit discretionary income, Maketa said. Groceries, gasoline, prescription drugs and utilities won’t be taxed.
Maketa said he needs to add 40 patrol deputies and said staffing at the Criminal Justice Center is currently for an imate population of about 1,000 although there are approximately 1,400 inmates in the jail.
“Patrol is my greatest concern,” Maketa said, “with a close second being staffing at the jail.”
Maketa’s budget — projected to be $47.3 million in 2013. That budget was cut by an average of more than $11 million a year over the four years from 2006 to 2009, much of it called temporary cuts, though none have been restored.
“Commissioners haven’t been able to address my staffing needs,” Maketa said. “I’ve been bringing these needs before them since 2008.”
Former county commissioner Douglas Bruce opposes 1A, partly because it has Maketa’s name in the ballot language.
“I’ve never seen the name of an elected official in ballot language,” Bruce said. “He needs to, frankly, cut out his spending. He’s got 12 or 14 people making more money than the governor. He doesn’t need a $99,000 psychologist or a $100,000 legal services when we already have a county attorney.
“Even Barack Obama says we shouldn’t raise taxes in a recession. Economy 101 is don’t raise taxes when times are tough.”
Even though Maketa said Bruce once told him to sunset the tax if he wanted to increase its chance of passing muster with voters, Bruce takes exception with it ending after eight years.
“It’s not credible for them to ask for a temporary tax to hire full-time employees,” Bruce said. “When they get their foot in the door, they’ll go for a renewal.”
Commission chairwoman Amy Lathen hosted a town hall with Maketa to address county issues, including 1A.
“I’m completely supporting (1A),” Lathen said. “I know what his needs are, and we don’t have the money. I’m standing in partnership with the sheriff.”
Commissioner Dennis Hisey echoed that sentiment.
Some, though, say the measure puts one too many tax increases on the packed November ballot.
Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach is among those who say 1A will hurt the chances of 5A — a partial extension of the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority, a road and bridge improvement tax — being passed by voters.
“We think the two stand on their own,” Maketa said.
Contact Bob Stephens: 636-0276 Twitter @bobgstephens
Facebook Gazette Bob Stephens