County to ask voters for sales tax increase to fund public safety facility
After listening to public feedback, Grand County’s Board of County Commissioners decided to move forward with a November ballot question seeking to raise the sales tax for a new public safety facility, but the county won’t dedicate any of those funds to mental health services.
A few dozen residents gathered at the administration building in Hot Sulphur Springs on Monday to discuss the county’s plans for a new public safety facility, which houses the sheriff’s office and jail, as well as financing options for the $28 million project.
Commissioner Rich Cimino started by summarizing the facility needs, existing funds and financing options, including potentially increasing the county sales tax. He emphasized that Monday’s public feedback would guide the commissioners’ direction.
Commissioners then presented a draft ballot question that would ask voters to raise the sales tax by .2% to partially fund the new building and mental health services.
“When it comes to mental health, prevention is better than dealing with after-the-fact issues and we’d like to address (public safety and mental health) together,” Cimino said.
While public comments indicated overwhelming support for both a new public safety facility and expanded mental health services, the majority of people expressed the belief that the two shouldn’t be intertwined in one ballot question.
“While I do understand we need a new jail … I do not believe that mental health and law enforcement go together,” said Ronda Myers.
Ultimately, Commissioners Kris Manguso and Merrit Linke agreed the sales tax question should focus solely on the public safety facility. Cimino disagreed, but all three commissioners stated their support for funding expanded mental health services in general.
“Mental health is not an issue that is going to sunset like this jail is,” Manguso said. “If we’re going to address mental health, let’s just address it.”
Commissioners directed staff to craft a ballot question for a .2% sales tax increase for 20 years to partially fund the public safety facility.
Aside from the contents of the ballot question, other public comments related to alternate financing options, and people asked why the county needs a larger, upgraded building.
The commissioners explained that the county identified the building as in need of an upgrade in the 2018 strategic master plan, and they have gone through a lengthy process to build an effective facility that’s not overbuilt.
Originally, the project was designed to be a bigger building and cost estimates were around $33 million, but the blueprint has since shrunk to around 28,000 square feet, which cut about $5 million out of the price tag. The county also considered remodeling the existing building but decided it wouldn’t be cost-effective.
Sheriff Brett Schroetlin also spoke about the dangerous working and living conditions of the existing facility, highlighting electrical and security system failures and detailing several incidents, including one where sewage floated in the hallways.
“A couple of weeks ago, we had a staff member getting assaulted,” he explained. “I had a sergeant at the sheriff’s office downstairs, merely 30 seconds away, and because of our poor radio communication system, one staff member continued to get assaulted while the officer got notified and got up through our system.”
Schroetlin added that the existing facility no longer meets the American Correctional Association Standards, nor the recommended guidelines for housing inmates with mental health concerns.
Commissioners also noted that they were trying to be responsible in asking the voters for a minimal sales tax increase and financing the rest of the project with existing revenues and certificates of participation.
“If the voters turn this down, that doesn’t negate the need for a jail, it’s just going to put it off,” Linke said.
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