by Pam Zubeck
With just over five weeks to go until the Nov. 6 election, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa has picked up some crucial endorsements for his tax increase.
The newly named Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance voted on Thursday to back the .0023 percent sales tax hike to pay for additional deputies and equipment, as did the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs. In addition, a group of small-town mayors in the county also have endorsed the tax hike, Maketa told about 25 citizens who showed up at the Stetson Hills Police Station on Friday night for Commission Chair Amy Lathen's town hall meeting.
"It's been positive from community groups," Maketa said, adding he's spent nights and lunch hours meeting with citizens to promote the tax hike, which would raise about $17 million annually and sunset after eight years.
What's surprising about the Business Alliance's endorsement is that the group, formerly the Chamber and EDC, has generally been in lockstep with Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach — yet Bach has indicated he opposes the tax hike. He even raised concerns that the county's use of the police station for a town hall meeting to discuss the tax increase would suggest to voters that the city supported it, Maketa tells the Independent.
Friday night, Maketa talked about the dire straits of his budget, noting that he has no more deputies on patrol today than in 1990, though the population has grown 61 percent. Since 1997, he said, calls for service have exploded by 137 percent. Yet, El Paso County's per capita spending on law enforcement is the lowest among comparable Colorado counties, and even with the tax hike would remain the lowest, Maketa said.
"All I'm asking is that we support those who go out and protect us," he added, noting that deputies often are in remote areas of the county where backup is a half-hour away. "We're asking them each night to make sacrifices and keep us safe."
Earlier, County Administrator Jeff Greene, who emphasized he was appearing at the meeting on his own time, said, "Things are not safe. If you think we're living in a really safe community and everything is going well, that's a complete falsehood."
Lathen also said she supported the tax hike, though she is "a very, very conservative Republican." She also said the resolution behind the ballot measure assures there would be maintenance of the sheriff's budget — meaning commissioners wouldn't bait and switch the voters by claiming for general-fund purposes the new tax revenue.
"I'm standing here saying I know what the numbers are," she said. "I know what's happening within the budget of El Paso County. I will stand in partnership with [Maketa]."