Stretched too thin 

Sheriff says proposed sales tax would give needed boost


Seven deputies were patrolling El Paso County on Sunday when a call came in to check on two boys staying with their father in Crystal Park, a gated community above Manitou Springs.

Their mother was worried about threats from Scott Alan Montgomery, her estranged husband, according to sheriff's reports.

It took close to an hour for two deputies to reach the house, miles away on winding mountain roads. There, they spotted Skyler and Canyon Montgomery, ages 5 and 21 months, through a window, unmoving and blood-spattered. They radioed for help and burst into the home, firing on the boys' 37-year-old father when he confronted them with a knife.

With that, the home became the site of three deaths and untold tragedy, requiring extra deputies to secure the scene, investigators to figure out what happened, and supervisors to fill the gaps.

And still, Sheriff Terry Maketa says, the office had to keep tabs on any other calls in an unincorporated area of nearly 2,000 square miles. One supervisor left a family outing to a Sky Sox game to help. Another called in reserve deputies to volunteer.

Maketa says such shortages are common in a county that has seen massive growth but only just added its first new patrol deputies in nearly two decades.

"All it takes is a scene like that," he says.

Maketa, who also says deputies at the Criminal Justice Center are stretched, could get help from a citizens group's proposal for a regional 1-cent sales tax to boost public safety and health operations. County and city leaders will discuss the proposal at a joint meeting Friday morning, though it's up to county commissioners to place it on November's ballot.

Topping the lengthy list of projects and priorities is a $75.5 million 864-bed jail expansion and $77.5 million in other court and law enforcement construction projects.

Voters have said "no" twice in the past 15 years to paying for new jail facilities with property-tax hikes. Maketa hopes voters will find a sales tax more palatable - and necessary.

"I think it's going to take a lot of education," he says.

Representatives of Citizens for Effective Government have started explaining the proposal to elected leaders and other groups. The group's final discussions before Friday's meeting mostly centered on how to divide projected funds, expected to be $72 million for the first year.

The original plan was to put 12.5 percent toward construction costs, with the rest toward county operational needs. But that would mean delaying or financing construction projects.

Mike Kazmierski, Greater Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp. CEO and part of the citizens group, explains a revised plan to avoid finance charges by devoting half the funds to construction costs for two years or so, then reducing capital projects to 10 percent of the total until they are all completed. The tax would then continue indefinitely at 0.9 cent for each dollar purchased. It would not apply to food, medicine or gasoline purchases.

- lane@csindy.com

Joint city-county meeting
First Presbyterian Church,
219 E. Bijou St.
Friday, June 27, 9:30 a.m.
For more, call 520-7276.

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