In November 2012, voters handed El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa a major victory by passing ballot issue 1A, a .0023 percent sales tax increase expected to raise $17 million annually for his department.
One year later, the tax is on track to slightly exceed that collection goal for 2013. It appears the sheriff is also delivering on many of his promises, which included everything from hiring 131 needed personnel to dealing with increased costs and back-logged maintenance needs.
"Just as anticipated, the revenue created by the sales tax increase through the passing of 1A has placed my Office in a position to meet staffing and safety concerns which have existed for several years," Maketa states in an email to the Independent.
As of October, the sheriff had hired and placed 81 people using 1A money, including 22 patrol deputies and 29 detention workers. Another class of sworn recruits was in training, with an expected graduation date of January 2014. And nearly all non-sworn positions had been filled.
In August, the sheriff's department also purchased warehouse facilities located at 3755, 3815, 3825 and 3845 N. Mark Dabling Blvd., to house its Emergency Services Division. The $3.2 million complex will also serve as storage space for wildland fire and emergency response equipment, and could house a leased helicopter. (Maketa is hoping up to three local partners and Teller County will chip in to lease a helicopter during the summer fire season. It could cost $750,000 to $900,000 a season, but would not be funded with any money from 1A.)
A very detailed report of expenditures in September — which did not include the cost of the building, because the closing wasn't until Dec. 2 — showed that the department had spent or set aside money for nearly $10.3 million in equipment, staff and training. That included over $1 million on vehicle purchases for new personnel, including 31 Chevy Impalas, 10 Chevy Tahoes, two GMC Sierras, and one Chevrolet Silverado. Another $408,000-plus went to two emergency vehicles: a wildland fire engine and a heavy crew carrier. Over $138,000 was spent on weaponry. A laundry list of other expenditures included basic upgrades like better security cameras at the jail and ventilation system at the evidence facility.
El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn says he plans to start asking his constituents next quarter if the tax has had the hoped-for impacts on response times and crime reduction. But, he says, "[It's] definitely helped us in the budgetary process." He specifies that the tax freed up money for priorities like replacing old vehicles and addressing stormwater needs.
1A sunsets in 2020. That could create issues, since staff are funded through the tax. But that won't be Maketa's problem; he's term-limited in 2014. Sheriff candidate Jim Reid says he believes the tax was needed (he worked within the sheriff's office for much of Maketa's run) and that it's being used wisely. He says he'd support extending the tax if needed, and would work transparently with voters to get it passed.
Candidate Bill Elder, whose 20 years in the office wrapped up in the late '90s, didn't get back to us for a comment for this story. But the Fountain deputy police chief told us last November that he wouldn't commit himself to supporting the tax in the future. In fact, he believes 1A wasn't needed, and that efficiencies could have been found within the existing budget.