OPINION: County Commissioners must back the badge

JOANN KALENAK, DCCR SENIOR BLOGGER — Delta County Ballot Issue 1A, commonly know as “Back the Badge,” lost by a little over 200 votes this past Nov. 5. The narrow margin, while a loss, showed how important public safety is even in a county where talk of raising taxes rubs most folks the wrong way.

Local law enforcement and other backers of the ballot measure made a good case for the need for more funding. An increase in crime, slow response time and a general lack of trained staff were among the reasons presented to voters.

Their story of need is not a new one though. Delta County’s law enforcement has long struggled under a shoestring budget. In 2017, I listened as Administrator LeValley joked with then Sheriff McKee about cutting funds that had already been budgeted for a much-needed police vehicle and spending the money on another project for which McKee voiced support. The exchange was clearly verbal arm-wrestling — a contest the sheriff’s department appeared to lose more often than not. It’s no wonder our police force decided to go to the taxpayers for increased funding — they were left with no other choice.

The county did, then and now, have a choice. The 2019 budget totaled some $34 million and it opened the year with $20 million in the bank. If the ballot measure had succeeded, the tax increase would have provided approximately $1.4 million in added revenue for Delta County’s sheriff’s department — a drop in the county reserve bucket. In other words, Delta County already has the money to better fund our local law enforcement.

Couple the reserve balance with substantial increases in sales tax revenues over the past several years — and you’ve got a pretty flush county government.

No more excuses, or convoluted budget explanations, or cries of poverty. The time has come for Delta County Commissioners to back the badge… and our school district and public libraries. They can afford it.