Voters rallied to support El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa and his proposed tax increase to add deputies and new equipment.
With 93 percent of the vote counted Tuesday, ballot question 1A had received 61 percent approval.
“It’s beyond Christmas,” Maketa said. ”I’m so thankful. Our office really needed this. I’m so appreciative. Everything was stacked against us.”
When initial results were announced shortly after 7 p.m., a cheer went up from supporters of ballot question 1A who were gathered with Maketa at Old Chicago near the Woodmen Road and I-25 interchange.
Maketa hugged his public information officer and others.
"Very good news," he told a lady. He rounded the corner and said, "That's all the noise you can make?" Those around him cheered again, this time louder.
The tax increase is expected to generate approximately $17 million to fund what Maketa identified as urgent needs in the sheriff’s office, primarily staffing and equipment. Maketa said he needs more deputies on patrol and to staff the only jail in the county.
“The heart of this is the sworn deputies on patrol,” he said. “They’re the first priority.”
The 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.
Maketa said he wants the public to “see an immediate impact by mid next summer” and to know “they can look back and see where the money went.”
“It will go where we said it’s going to go,” he said. “I will be accountable with these dollars. I will spend these dollars as if they were my own.”
County commissioner Dennis Hisey wasn't surprised by the outcome.
“I think the people recognize that the sheriff has real needs," Hisey said. "He serves more than just the unincorporated (portion of the county). He serves all of the citizens of El Paso County and I think the people recognized that and said, ‘You’re right. He hasn’t had any new patrol deputies since 96. Same thing in the jail. Nobody new since 96. He’s got to have some help in there.’ They understand that. They recognize that.”
Commissioner Sallie Clark said voters were supporting Maketa while voting for the tax increase.
"I think it shows how much respect the sheriff has in our community and that folks appreciate those basic services, including law enforcement and public safety," Clark said. "Good news for us at the county to know that the Sheriff's Office will have the funding that it needs to hire more deputies, to be able to properly staff the jail, to be able to buy more wildland fire trucks, as well as staffing for our Office of Emergency Management."
Maketa was concerned that persuading voters to approve the tax in conservative El Paso County would be difficult, especially with another tax measure already on the ballot. But public safety and roads typically get voters to approve a tax increase. The other tax question, Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority, is an extension of the 10-year road and bridges tax approved in 2004. It was passing by 73 percent.
A similar ballot measure to help fund law enforcement for several county entities failed in 2008.
Hisey said he's "thrilled" about this outcome.
"That takes care of the need we have heard about as long as I’ve been a commissioner and we’ve never been able to address in any significant way," Hisey said, "so that is going to take a big burden off of the county budget and do good things for the sheriff by doing those things we couldn’t do for him.”
Sheriff's deputy John Watts said the passage of 1A will be good "for our safety, the public's safety, response times. It's phenomenal. I'm surprised. It shows the amount of community support. We love it. We appreciate the support."
Watts said adding patrol deputies will shorten response times. He expects the number of deputies to almost double. Watts said deputies know that backup is far away or nonexistent.
"It makes you nervous and very cautious in what you do," he said.
County commissioners are required to fund the sheriff’s budget so he can perform mandated duties, such as running the jail in an acceptable fashion. Maketa has let commissioners know he might sue them if the tax measure didn’t pass and they didn’t find a way to fund his needs.
County budget director Nicola Sapp told commissioners two months ago: “There isn’t money in the county budget to address the sheriff’s needs.” There is $500,000 in emergency reserve, Sapp said, but that’s a far cry from the approximate $22 million Maketa said he needs.
Contact Bob Stephens: 636-0276 Twitter @bobgstephens
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