Tuesday, August 21, 2018

UPDATE: El Paso County commissioners eye sheriff's tax extension

Posted By on Tue, Aug 21, 2018 at 2:34 PM

click to enlarge Sheriff Bill Elder: Has underspent his budget for three years running. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Sheriff Bill Elder: Has underspent his budget for three years running.
El Paso County announced on Aug. 22 that county commissioners will consider referring the sheriff's tax measure to voters at their Aug. 28 and Sept. 4 meetings. The measure would impose the .0023 percent tax permanently. Originally approved by voters in 2012 and effective in 2013, it's due to end in 2020.

The original announcement didn't say whether the sheriff's tax extension would be permanent or for a time certain. So we asked.

This is the response from county spokesperson Dave Rose via email:
Staff recommendation is to continue the dedicated PSST with no sunset. Staff view is that a sunset makes sense when you are funding “one-time” needs such as building a number of specific roadways but it makes less sense when you have ongoing mandated requirements like staffing to secure the jail and food and medical services for inmates. I would expect a good deal of discussion on that point when the proposal and draft language go to the Board at its regular meetings August 28 and September 4.
———————-ORIGINAL POST 2:34 P.M. TUESDAY, AUG. 21, 2018—————————

On the morning of Aug. 21, the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners met behind closed doors to discuss a ballot measure to extend the sheriff's sales tax of .62 percent.

They emerged from the session more than an hour later with County Attorney Amy Folsom saying, "No decisions were made."

In 2012, voters approved the measure, a sales tax of .0023 percent for eight years, effective Jan. 1, 2013. The measure, called 1A, was approved when then-Sheriff Terry Maketa was at the height of his popularity; in fact, the ballot measure itself named Maketa. He was subsequently tried for various crimes but was never convicted, despite two trials, and alleges it was an attempted frame-up by his internal foes.

The tax expires at the end of 2020.

In its first five years, the tax generated more than $100 million, and it's been underspent most if not all of those years, according to annual reports available on the sheriff's website.
  • Courtesy El Paso County Sheriff's Office

The first year, 2013, Maketa didn't spend $4.9 million of the $17.9 million generated by the tax, and carried it over to the next year. In 2014, about $19 million was spent, including new 1A revenue and the carryover, while some of the money was used by county commissioners to spend on emergency management.

Since Sheriff Bill Elder took office on Dec. 31, 2014, the department has underspent its budget three years running. It's impossible to know how much was collected and spent under 1A based on Elder's 2015 report, however, because all revenues are lumped together. In any event, he ended up with $3.7 million unspent that year.
In 2016, he had $1.8 million extra from 1A, and last year, he underspent his budget by nearly $1.2 million.

From 2017 annual report: "Our ongoing fiscal oversight and conservative approach to budgeting has allowed us to increase staffing, lower capital spending, and significantly under spend our annual budget for the third year in a row by nearly one million dollars."

It's unclear why commissioners saw fit to meet behind closed doors regarding asking voters to extend the tax or make it permanent.

The executive session notice gives the purpose of the confidential meeting as being requested by the county attorney "regarding ballot language for consideration by the Board, which may request voter approval to, without raising taxes, continue the 2012 Public Safety Tax to maintain critical services at the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office."

Specifically, the notice says commissioners need to "conference" with the county attorney "for the purpose of receiving legal advice on specific legal questions, including but not
limited to, legal implications of a ballot question as well as legal implications of ballot language options."
Some might ask, what's the big secret? Why is discussion of a ballot measure, which will reportedly be referred to voters in November, considered a confidential matter to be shielded from the public?
click to enlarge The Rural Enforcement Outreach Unit is one of the departments funded with 1A. - COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
  • Courtesy El Paso County Sheriff's Office
  • The Rural Enforcement Outreach Unit is one of the departments funded with 1A.
Well, as you recall, county commissioners have a history of tricky ballot language, such as the 2010 question that gave commissioners and other county elected officials a third four-year term beyond the previously voter-restricted two terms. The public was so outraged at the deception they insisted on another crack at the question and subsequently reversed their previous approval.

Deadline to submit a measure to be on the Nov. 6 general election ballot is Sept. 7.

So there doesn't appear to be much time for commissioners to take action. The summer schedule has commissioners meeting just once a week, on Tuesdays. The regular schedule of meetings every Tuesday and Thursday resumes in September, so there are three meetings left before the ballot measure referral deadline.

Commissioners Peggy Littleton and Mark Waller were not at the dais when the executive session ended.

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