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Voters Approve Sales Tax for Sheriff’s Department

Fremont County Sheriff Jim Beicker being interviewed by a TV news crew on election night after voter approval of a one cent sales tax for the Sheriff's Department

Fremont County Sheriff Jim Beicker and his command staff were optimistic Tuesday evening as votes were being counted that voters across the county had heard the message that the Sheriff had few options left to fund the needs in their department.   Their optimism paid off minutes later as the vote tally showed the Sheriff’s one percent sales tax question being approved by voters with 55 percent voter approval.   The final count showed the sales tax measure winning by 1,433 votes.

Sheriff Beicker and his administrators expressed their appreciation to the voters who recognized that there are critical staffing and equipment needs in the Sheriff’s Department that can no longer be met with the revenues provided by the county’s general fund and from leasing beds to house Colorado D.O.C. parole violators.

Sheriff Beicker said the work will begin immediately in consultation with the Board of Commissioners to put forth an amended 2014 Sheriff’s budget that will prioritize the most critical needs in his department.   He said that will most likely focus on replacing an aging fleet of patrol cars, hiring detention officers and patrol deputies after nearly a dozen positions had been eliminated earlier as part of budget cuts, and funding Fremont County’s larger share of a new regional dispatch center.

District 3 Commissioner Ed Norden told reporters that the Commissioners will work to identify those critical public safety needs and amend the Sheriff’s 2014 budget to reflect that.   He said eventual replacement of the electronic security system that is the electronic brain that runs the jail is also a critical issue that will be funded next year.

This was the third time since he took office in 2003 that Sheriff Beicker went directly to the voters to ask for help in addressing his needs.    In 2006 voters handily defeated a property tax question.    Feedback at that time had some voters saying they would have preferred a sales tax question.    The Sheriff and Commissioners returned in 2007 with a half cent sales tax proposal which narrowly lost by just over 100 votes.

Disillusioned by the voters’ rejection and with little public support for tax increases in the recession that followed in 2008, the Sheriff had to cope with declining county revenues by cutting his budget.   That meant that over the next six years the Sheriff would continue to reduce staffing levels in the jail and on patrol, reduce patrol coverage in western Fremont County, extend the life of an aging fleet of patrol cars by running mileage to levels approaching 200,000 miles, and seeking contracts to lease additional jail beds to the Department of Corrections to raise more revenue.

As the Board of Commissioners and the Sheriff weighed their options in August to take a ballot question to the voters, Undersheriff Ty Martin told the Commissioners, “The situation is grim, we cannot maintain the current level of service much longer”.

Undersheriff Ty Martin (left) and Patrol Captain Don Pinover were instrumental along with Sheriff Jim Beicker in detailing the critical needs of the Sheriff's Department to voters

Up against the wall, the Commissioners and Sheriff decided that they could no longer postpone taking the issue back to the voters for a third time in Sheriff’s Beicker’s tenure.

The 1-cent sales tax that voters approved on Tuesday is expected to raise an additional $2.8 million over the twelve months starting in 2014.     Like Fremont County’s other 1 ½ percent sales tax, the new sales tax will not apply to any grocery-food purchases.    The 1-cent sales tax will sunset in 10 years meaning the Sheriff will have to make his argument at that time that the money has been invested wisely on public safety issues.

The Board of Commissioners has repeatedly reassured voters that they will continue to fund the Sheriff with money from the county’s General Fund at the same $3.9 million annual rate of recent years.  The Commissioners said the only thing they will ask of the Sheriff is that he considers repaying money back to some of the other county funds.   Over seven years the Commissioners had to transfer various amounts of money from other county funds to cover additional expenses that the Sheriff faced in covering daily operational costs of his department.   The Commissioners said it will be proposed that repayments to those other funds also be made over a series of years assuring that today’s priorities in the Sheriff’s Department will be met.