County looks at sales tax increase to fund new facility

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by Marissa Lorenz

The Grand County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) is proposing a 0.1 percent to 0.2 percent sales tax increase be placed on the 2019 ballot, with the intention of helping to fund a new Public Safety Facility and create a revenue stream to support mental health services in the county. The Board invites the community to attend a public meeting regarding the potential ballot question to be held Monday, August 5 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. in the Commissioners’ Meeting Room in Hot Sulphur Springs.

The current Public Safety Facility or Jail, built in 1983 and located adjacent to the Grand County Justice Center in Hot Sulphur, houses the Sheriff’s Office, 911 Communications Center and Detention Center. A recent County Needs Assessment determined that there are concerns with space requirements, safety, and security of the aging building. “The size of the facility is not the only issue,” affirms Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin. “There is a concern for the safety of the employees and the citizens of the County.” The existing facility does not currently meet the American Correctional Association Standards. And in recent years, it has suffered from both fires and safety equipment failures, costing $40,000 to $50,000 each time to correct. Other costs and inconveniences accompany these incidents, include having to transport and house inmates at distant facilities, like the Routt County Jail.

In light of these facts, the BOCC identified a new Public Safety Facility as the most critical need in the Grand Results Strategic Plan, adopted in March 2018. A thorough assessment of the need was then conducted by an outside firm, examining the costs and potentials of either a replacement facility or a facility that could also house other public and emergency services, such as EMS and Emergency Management. Estimated costs for a replacement jail facility came back at $28.5 million, whereas a combined building was estimated in excess of $60 million. The Board has determined to construct a facility at the lower estimate, to house the jail, administrative offices for the Sheriff’s office and the 911 dispatch services. They believe that a 20-year loan could be funded between 50 percent and 75 percent by existing revenues. However, additional revenue would be needed to pay it off in the desired period.

Another closely related concern in the county is the availability and efficacy of mental health services, and so the Board proposes to address both issues together. They estimate that a 0.2 percent sales tax would raise an additional $1.2 million a year, which could meet the 25-40 percent gap in facility funding and also create funds for supporting mental health services. “Right now, mental health services are done by the jail and law enforcement,” states Commissioner Rich Cimino. He anticipates the sales tax, which would sunset at the end of the 20-year period, could also collect between $200,000 and $400,000 that could be put toward such needs as mobile crisis support and transportation services. As an example, he explains that transport could be done in a dedicated van with trained staff, whereas now, due to a lack of other options, individuals experiencing a mental health crisis could be transported by law enforcement in cuffs, whether the situation would warrant such measures or not.

The Commission envisions creating a mental health board that would oversee the monies raised and the services performed with them. The board would consist of one member from each town and three members-at-large. This board would have the flexibility to set and change priorities for mental health funds as they learn more about needs and what works, according to Cimino. Sheriff Brett Schroetlin supports the proposal, stating, “Since 1983, the population of inmates has changed, with a larger percentage having a mental health diagnosis. New state of the art detention centers need to take this into account by complying with state regulations and providing appropriate protection for inmates and staff.”

While the BOCC recognizes the difficulty in passing tax increases they are also optimistic that the community may be interested in supporting the public safety improvements and mental health services that would come from the increased revenue. They will invite public comment at Monday’s meeting, but intend the session to be primarily informational. The final decision on what kind of tax to propose will be made at that time.

Other feedback and comments are encouraged to be submitted online at https://www.co.grand.co.us/FormCenter/Needs-Assessment-18/Public-Opinion-Survey-and-Comment-Form-115. To learn more about the Public Safety Facility Needs Assessment, visit https://www.co.grand.co.us/931/Needs-Assessment.

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