During Tuesday’s special meeting of the County Commission, it was déjà vu all over again.
Commissioner Sallie Clark had a testy exchange with her former colleague, the irrepressible Douglas Bruce; Sheriff Terry Maketa discussed in detail his department’s needs; Commissioner Darryl Glenn was absent; and Chairwoman Amy Lathen put on her Game Day face and ran the meeting with her usual chilly efficiency.
It could have been 2008, 2009, 2010 or 2011.
But this meeting was different. Maketa formally requested that the commissioners put a .023 percent county sales tax increase on the November ballot, with the $16 million in annual revenue earmarked for the sheriff’s department.
The request seemed reasonable, given the multiple interrelated funding crises that burden the department. Yet Maketa’s sudden thirst for more taxes is puzzling, even if his needs are as urgent and pressing as he believes them to be.
He’ll have just two months to make his case before voters go to the polls in November. Since Glenn has already said that he opposes putting the issue on the ballot, he won’t have the unanimous support of the commissioners. Moreover, Mayor Steve Bach has expressed grave misgivings about the proposal, fearing that it may doom any chance of renewing the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority tax, which is already on the ballot.
That’s not exactly a recipe for success.
El Paso County voters tend to be cautious and skeptical. If you’re going to put a tax issue on the ballot that has any hope of passing, there’s a certain protocol you have to follow.
Study the issue in depth and form a citizens’ committee to recommend possible solutions. Stress the problem, not an already-decided “risky tax scheme.”
Hold community meetings, make speeches, use old and new media to publicize the process.
Get buy-in from community leaders long before you present it to the commissioners.
Help create an independent support organization — how ‘bout “Citizens for Effective Law Enforcement”?
Formally ask commissioners to put it on the ballot well in advance of the election, allowing time to create a powerful, focused campaign for approval.
Don’t put anything on during a presidential election — your message, however credible, will be drowned out.
What Maketa is doing is a textbook example of what not to do. He’s ambushing the voters, like a 19th century highwayman grabbing an unwary traveler, putting a revolver to his head, and exclaiming “Your money or your life!”
Maketa’s strategy is to cast himself as the honest lawman who has been blown off time after time by inattentive Commissioners.
“I told them (the commissioners) these are my issues,” Maketa said, “and you guys aren’t doing anything about them.”
Maketa’s issues include insufficient staffing “for patrol functions, emergency planning, emergency operations and response.”
The Waldo Canyon fire highlighted “…inadequate wildland firefighting equipment, obsolete communications technology and overall inadequate staffing within the Sheriff’s Office,” he said.
Soaring mandated medical costs for inmates in the county jail are also a major concern.
Maketa trotted out the kind of statistics that elected officials in our tax-averse region always use to make the case for a tax increase.
For example, county law enforcement costs are by far the lowest of any comparable county. The patrol staff, with 10 deputies, is the same as it was in 1990, although population in the unincorporated county has grown by 50 percent and calls for service increased by 137 percent.
Such statistics cut no ice with once-again portly Douglas Bruce, apparently none the worse from his sojourn in the Denver County Jail.
“Speaking of response times,” Bruce said, “What was the response time on the Waldo Canyon Fire? 24 hours?”
That allegation, as well as a few other Bruce-isms, prompted many an indignant harrumph from Maketa and the commissioners.
“Gross misrepresentation” was the least of their complaints.
Maketa said that he just wants to give the voters an opportunity to decide for themselves.
“If it doesn’t pass,” he said, “so be it.”
Yet Lathen took pains to distance herself from the proposal.
“We don’t raise taxes,” she said somewhat disingenuously. “Only the voters can do that — and that’s as it should be.”
And speaking as one of those voters, I’m particularly resentful that the simple pleasures of life, such as watching the Broncos, will be sullied by nonstop political commercials.
A simple request, Sheriff…no mas!!