GUEST COLUMN:
Vote yes on 1A
By Sallie Clark, County Commissioner

       It's been 10 years since we residents fought the fight to save Fire Station 3. The entire public safety issue came about due to the lack of process and participation. I fervently believe that in government, process is the key to successful outcomes. It drives what we do, how issues and services are provided and what the public believes is in their best interests; a new development, a roadway expansion, pothole repairs, stormwater im-provements, law enforcement or fire and emergency services, among others. And, the quickly approaching November election is also about process and how it relates to the future of our community.
       El Paso County's budget concerns include a multimillion-dollar shortfall for critical operations and a $300 million-plus backlog of needed capital and maintenance projects. Various suggestions have been made to balance the county's budget: Close parks or sell parkland, eliminate 4-H programs or make reductions to staffing our regional jail facility - resulting in more criminals back on the streets more quickly. What you may not have heard is the impact our county's budget reductions has on city services. When our Colorado Springs police officers provide law enforcement, those accused are processed through the county's locally funded judicial system, mandated by the state and federal government - the district attorney, the courthouse, the regional jail, and the coroner to determine cause of death. Additionally, the county sheriff is the legal county fire marshal, servicing nearly 1,900 miles of unincorporated areas, adjacent to municipalities such as Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs. The recent fire at Fort Carson placed our city in great danger, with a wildland interface and Cheyenne Mountain right across the road. The county's one wildland fire truck depends on mutual aid from other jurisdictions to prevent widespread fires.
       I'm concerned about our safety - personally received a call from my neighbor about a shooting only a few blocks away, and recently witnessed a break-in at my home and business. In our community we've heard about investigations of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and West Nile Virus at schools and in our neighborhoods. Unfortunately, response times continue to degrade for fire, police and emergency services. The tipping point is here… and without local resources to prosecute misdemeanor crimes, the problem worsens. Just last week there were simultaneous apartment fires with the majority of Fire Department personnel and equipment engaged at one time. Using an analogy from the Fire Station 3 debate, when you take a scoop out of the middle of a chocolate cream pie, you get a thinner pie with no substance.
       As a homeowner and business owner, I believe it's worth it to pay just a penny to keep my neighborhood and my community safe. While there's never a perfect time to ask for a tax increase, sales tax places less burden on fixed income individuals and is also paid by tourists and those who don't live here. Additionally, it exempts food, prescription medications and residential heating, gasoline and diesel fuels. In El Paso County, combined taxes per person are the lowest of the largest 10 Colorado counties. Should 1A be approved, our county will still have the lowest taxes per person out of the top 10 counties in Colorado.
       Over 18 months ago, a group of citizens joined together in a process to analyze not only the needs of El Paso County's 2,200 square miles, but our region's eight cities and towns. The Safer Community Initiative came about through thousands of hours of prioritization for the most critical public safety and health needs. Citizens for Effective Government (CEG) requested that commissioners place a dedicated public safety and public health one-penny sales tax question before the voters to specifically fund those needs; the tax also provides an important share-back to Colorado Springs and other municipalities to address their critical public safety needs.
       My friends, this time we're not just fighting to save a fire station; we're fighting to maintain safety in our entire community. Join me in supporting the 1A Safer Community Initiative on Nov. 4. For only 25 cents a day, you'll be giving the needed support to allow us to provide a safe environment for El Paso County and for those who put their lives on the line to keep us - our neighbors, friends and families - safe.

Editor’s note: Pam Berry, Clark’s opponent for county commissioner in the Nov. 4 election, has been invited to write a guest column on Initiative 1A also.