Backers of a city sales tax measure to increase Montrose Police Department funding appear to have eked out a narrow victory, according to unofficial results Tuesday night.
Measure 2A establishes a 0.58-percent sales tax increase for more officers and a new police building; it passed by a mere 60 votes: 3,257 for, to 3,197 against. The difference is less than 1 percent, but is not small enough that an automatic recount would trigger, election officials said.
Montrose’s municipal sales tax will increase from 7.95 percent to 8.53 percent; after 20 years, the portion of the public safety sales tax paying for the new building will sunset, leaving the rate at 0.44 percent for public safety.
“I’m thrilled. This was something that we totally thought needed to happen for our community. And it happened,” said Phoebe Benziger, of One Community, Safer Together, which advocated for 2A.
Benziger was previously a member of the city’s blue ribbon committee, which had assessed police needs and suggested a sales tax increase for public safety.
“Everybody will benefit from this passage. I could not be happier,” Benziger said.
“For now, at least today, we will have the funding we need for intelligence-led policing and a better police facility,” Montrose Police Chief Blaine Hall said Tuesday night, while off-duty. The intelligence-led police model is data-driven to cut crime, but is labor-intensive.
Efforts to increase police funding began last year, when the now-retired chief and private citizens went before Montrose City Council to ask for more officers and a larger building.
The police department needed an estimated 15 more sworn officers, over time, and a building larger than its current location on South First Street. It was suggested the city could use adjacent property it already owns on which to construct a new headquarters.
Councilors responded by establishing a blue ribbon citizens’ public safety committee, which it tasked with examining staffing levels, call loads, crime rates, similar municipalities’ forces, and what means, if any, by which to fund any increasing in staffing or a new building.
The committee found that rising crime and growth rates require more officers in order to keep pace, plus that a new building was necessary.
After multiple public meetings and presentations, councilors decided to request the 0.58-percent sales tax increase.
Although opponents said the city had failed to prioritize its spending needs and that an additional tax was not the answer, in the end, the “ayes” appeared to carry the day.
Although about 50 ballots were in holding Tuesday night, owing to signature discrepancies and other issues that can be corrected by the elector by Nov. 11, not all of these had been cast by electors who were eligible to vote on 2A. (Those who need to cure their ballots will be promptly notified by mail.)
“It pretty much passed,” Montrose County Chief Deputy Clerk Kim Wright said.
“I always felt it would be close,” Hall said. “I think that’s why it was so important that (backers) tried to do as many presentations as we could.”
Prior to city council deciding to pursue a ballot measure, Hall made presentations about Montrose’s crime rates — last year, officers responded to an average of two felonies a day, along with less serious crimes and basic calls for service, which were also up significantly. Once the vote was held to put the question to voters, he could only advocate while off-duty.
In all, proponents put on more than 40 public presentations.
Hall said it was a team effort between the public safety committee, city council, city manager, city staff and One Community, Safer Together.
Everyone in the latter group deserves kudos, he said. “But their leader, Phoebe Benziger, and the leader of the public safety committee, J. David Reed, I think were instrumental. … I think this effort touched every single department in the city and we have a great team,” Hall said.
“First of all, I’m elated. Second of all, it was the right thing to do,” said Reed. “ … I think the citizens of Montrose won and the criminals lost.”
With the vote apparently secured, more hard work is to follow, Hall said. He encouraged anyone with questions about the city’s budget to attend the upcoming budget open house at 4 p.m., Nov. 14, 107 S. Cascade Ave.
“I think the city does an excellent job with the budgeting and they were very concerned about public safety, to the tune of using 45 percent of the general fund to fund the police in 2019,” Hall said.
Per the ballot language, the public safety sales tax does not replace general fund allocations to the police department; it is additional money for police operations.
“Truly, we have a promise to deliver to our community and it’s called crime reduction,” Hall said.
“ … For tonight, I’ll take it (the vote) as a win and we’ll just move on from there. Personally, I’m elated, but now, more hard work begins. I’m also elated for the community, because this is going to give us the resources to keep the community safe.”
Montrose Daily Press staff writer Andrew Kiser contributed to this report.