Dear El Paso County Citizens,
This November, you will be asked to vote on a ballot question. It’s called County Question 1A, and it seeks your approval of a proposed extension of the Public Safety Tax (PST), the original 1A that was voted in back in 2012.
In accordance with Colorado law, the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder’s Office has sought public comment on this ballot measure. The public has until noon, September 21, 2018, to submit comments, pro or con, on the question. The idea is to provide comments to be included in the little blue election book (ballot notice) that accompanies your mail-in ballot.
Tonight, I submitted mine. I’ve attached my actual comment letter to Angela Leath, Director of Elections. She has already acknowledged receipt.
It will be interesting to see which comments that I submitted actually make it into the ballot notice. I hope the Clerk and Recorder’s Office includes them all so that voters can make an informed decision.
I am all for properly funding the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office (EPSO), but what I am opposed to is asking us to extend this tax (which I argue is a new tax) when both EPSO and the Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) have NOT provided full accountability and transparency over what we’ve funded so far.
You can either download the actual letter I sent or you can read the summary, below. I encourage everyone who wishes to weigh in on this ballot proposal to do so by the noon Friday deadline. Send your comments to: Angela Leath, at AngelaLeath@elpasoco.com.
Comments in Opposition to County Question 1A
- It IS a New Tax: The BoCC is parsing words by refusing to call this a new tax and referring to it instead as a tax extension. This is being done deceptively and callously to avoid mandatory language requirements that any new tax proposal would demand under TABOR. This dishonesty with the voters should be sufficient enough grounds to remove it from the ballot. If this question moves forward. then at a minimum, the language must be legal, honest, and in compliance with TABOR. It is a new tax for two reasons.
- In the proposal, the uses for the tax have been expanded to include things the original tax did not allow funds to be expended on. This has substantially altered the original tax into something different and thereby makes it a new tax being levied on the citizens of the county.
- Since it was a temporary tax in the first place, any extension of it, even if its purpose were not expanded, is merely a reset of a new tax. If it were left to sunset, it would go back to zero percent. It was a new tax the moment it went into effect; it is a new tax today, and it will still be a new tax in 8 or 10 years from now.
- Public Safety is a General Fund Responsibility: Public safety is a necessary function of government. In tens of thousands of municipalities across this country, public safety is funded through general taxation, general funds. It must be the same in El Paso County. Relying on a temporary sales tax to fund law enforcement is both unusual and unnecessary, particularly at a time when the County’s general fund coffers have only grown with an increase in population, homes, and jobs.
- Self-Inflicted, Fake Crisis: It is well known that the BoCC has diverted significant sums of general fund money to developers in the community for private enterprise, thereby artificially creating a funding crisis. In exchange, many of the developers who are benefitting from this Corporate Welfare have donated to several Commissioners’ (and other County officials’) political campaigns. The Commissioners’ solution to the general fund crisis that they created has been to rely on the PST to manage the shortfall. That is both unacceptable and incredibly cynical. The people who can least afford it are getting taxed in the hide, while the wealthiest of our citizens are getting richer off of vulnerable taxpayers. Stop Corporate Welfare. Return all campaign donations to developers. Fix the general fund shortfall that was manufactured to offset the Corporate Welfare.
- Lousy Government Bailing Itself Out: Had the BoCC and EPSO done their jobs, they would have managed the temporary PST properly over the last seven years and arrived at a permanent solution (see #2, above). Their poor management and lack of leadership should not become a burden on the taxpayer today. Asking for an extension (a new tax) is not a real solution and merely ducks the responsibility they have failed to take over the last several years. What we really need is good government, good stewardship of our money, but not a new tax.
- Surpluses Mean a New Tax is Unjustified: It has been widely reported that the EPSO has ended most years (all but one, I believe) with a surplus of PST money. If the revenue provided to EPSO is too much now, how can the county justify asking for more? What has happened to these surpluses? Why haven’t the taxpayers received a refund? Bottomline: surpluses mean EPSO does NOT need this new tax.
- Mismanaged Budgets: The main purpose of the original PST was to provide for more manpower in both patrol and detention at EPSO. The current Sheriff has presided over double-digit attrition losses to the point that patrol and jail manning are now at dangerously low levels. How can that be when the PST was designed to do the opposite? How can that be when EPSO claims to have surpluses at the end of most years? Again, what has happened to the money?
- Lack of Accountability and Transparency: Per the original PST ballot language, the EPSO is required to provide an annual accounting of revenues received from and expenditures made with PST monies. While EPSO has provided summaries of information in some years, it has never fully complied with ballot requirements. I attempted to obtain the level of detail required by the ballot via the CORA process, only to be told by El Paso County that my request would cost me over $3,000.00 to fulfill. No citizen should ever have to pay government more money to learn what government already has done with his money. Unless and until El Paso County provides a line-by-line, full, complete, and transparent accounting of every penny raised and every penny spent in PST money, from its inception until the present day, then it should not get another dime of sales tax money.