Colorado Springs voters might be asked to give up tax refunds to fund new police training academy

Colorado Springs police cruiser
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Colorado Springs police cruiser.

This story has been updated

Voters in Colorado Springs could be asked to allow the city to keep up to $5 million in tax refunds to help acquire space for a new police training facility. City council members are expected to vote later this month on whether or not to put a Taxpayer's Bill of Rights — or TABOR — retention question on the ballot this November.

TABOR uses a formula based on population growth and inflation to cap how much tax revenues local governments can keep each year. Taxpayers are refunded the excess unless voters approve use of the funds elsewhere. For example, in 2021, Colorado Springs residents voted in favor of the city keeping up to $20 million in retained tax money for a fire mitigation program.

In a brief presentation to city council members Monday, Colorado Springs Mayor Yemi Mobolade said that while a location for the facility and final dollar amounts are yet to be determined, the need is pressing.

"We do not know what the cost is…when you look at some other cities that have built training academies, they could cost upwards of $30 to 40 million," Mobolade said. "I want to be clear. I'm not saying that's what it's going to cost us. I'm saying it's expensive."

He said the $5 million from the possible ballot measure would be seed money to retrofit an existing space or to purchase new land. The search for a location is ongoing.

The new facility is a priority in Mobolade's "100-Day Blueprint," released before he took office in June. Throughout his campaign, Mobolade said he would pursue solutions to the city's ongoing challenges in recruiting and retaining police officers. 

The department is one of many in the state that has struggled with staffing. 

CSPD currently has 730 sworn officers with 88 open positions, according to records provided by the department. Last year, 85 officers left the force. So far this year, 33 have left. Of those, close to one-third cited personal reasons for leaving. Nearly the same number retired. 37 recruits are expected to join CSPD once they finish training later this year. It's unclear how those statistics compare to other departments.

Police Chief Adrian Vasquez told city council CSPD is starting a training academy every 15 weeks and wants a minimum of 40 recruits in each class. He said the department is actively recruiting, with efforts focused on military veterans and at colleges and high schools.  

The 15-week training cycle begins this month, enabling the department to be in a continuous hiring process. But only if they meet standards set by the state and Vasquez said they're shifting things around in the current facility to make do.

"The problem is that we have to have classroom space and [pay attention to] things like instructor-to-student ratio," Vasquez said. "They're very particular about their requirements [for] everything from HVAC and air quality requirements but more importantly how much space do we need to be able to do, for example, reality-based training."

He said right now, the department doesn't have enough space to simultaneously offer training to recruits and existing officers.

"We're already hiring for our October academy," Vasquez said. "For me to be able to do that, I've had to ask our academy staff to take out the area where our locker rooms are and where our recruits eat lunch. We're having to retrofit that so we can start that new academy."

Vasquez said close to $1.8 million in public safety sales tax revenues have already been set aside for the new proposed facility.

Council members had mixed reactions to the proposal. Councilman Dave Donelson questioned whether the timing was right to ask for such a small portion of the overall – and ultimately unknown – cost. Donelson serves the northwestern portion of Colorado Springs. Yolanda Avila spoke in favor of adding the measure to the ballot, citing the potential benefits for residents. Avila represents District 4, which includes the southeast portion of the city.