Voters in Colorado Springs will decide if the city can keep $4.75 million in tax refunds to help acquire space for a new training facility for the Colorado Springs Police Department (CSPD). If approved, this measure will allow the city to keep all expected money that would otherwise be refunded to citizens under TABOR provisions.
The city estimates the refund to be just over $20 per person, although only those who have accounts with Colorado Springs Utilities would receive them.
The final cost of the project for a new training facility depends on whether an existing building is renovated or a new property is purchased. Colorado Springs Mayor Yemi Mobolade said the cost to retrofit a property would likely be between an estimated $12 million and $21 million. A brand new facility could cost as much as $45 million, according to the mayor's office. The $4.75 million in question on the ballot would serve as seed money to leverage additional funding.
The city has already set aside $1.8 million in public safety sales tax revenues for the new proposed facility
CSPD has 730 sworn officers with 88 open positions, according to records provided by the department earlier this year. 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.
City council voted 7-1 to put the question on the April ballot in August. Councilman Dave Donelson was the lone no vote.
Here’s how it’ll look on the ballot
WITHOUT IMPOSING ANY NEW TAX OR INCREASING THE RATE OF ANY EXISTING TAX, SHALL THE CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS BE PERMITTED TO RETAIN AND SPEND $4,750,000 FOR THE PURPOSE OF ACQUIRING PROPERTY, PLANNING, CONSTRUCTING, AND EQUIPPING A TRAINING FACILITY FOR THE COLORADO SPRINGS POLICE DEPARTMENT, THIS AMOUNT BEING THE ESTIMATED 2022 REVENUES ABOVE THE 2022 FISCAL YEAR REVENUE/SPENDING LIMITATIONS, AS A VOTER APPROVED REVENUE CHANGE AND EXCEPTION TO ANY CONSTITUTIONAL, STATUTORY, AND CHARTER REVENUE AND SPENDING LIMITATIONS THAT MAY OTHERWISE APPLY?
Who supports it?
Those in favor say CSPD's current training facility limits the department's ability to recruit and retain staff. The department is one of many in the state that has struggled with staffing. Response times are also up. Mayor Yemi Mobolade has billed the measure as a chance for everyone in the city to collectively fund a suffering public service.
"On your worst day, you want the best-trained officer to answer your call," Mobolade said during his State of the City Address in September. "And that’s why a vote for this ballot item is a vote for public safety."
Police Chief Adrian Vasquez told city council this summer that CSPD is starting a training academy every 15 weeks and wants a minimum of 40 recruits in each class. He said right now, the department doesn't have enough space to simultaneously offer training to recruits and existing officers.
He called the current building a "financial liability."
Mobolade has said the city will pursue the facility even if the measure does not get voter approval to retain TABOR funds. To do so, they would have to dip into the city's reserves, use public safety sales tax revenues or pursue a bond measure.
Who's against it?
Citizens opposed to the measure have questioned the CSPD's need for the funds, with some saying they fear adding officers would disproportionately impact disenfranchised communities. The Chinook Center, a community hub in Colorado Springs, has been actively against the idea for months.
On its Facebook page, Chinook members posted a statement questioning the city's transparency relating to a poll that claims there is broad support for the facility. CSPD is facing a handful of lawsuits regarding the use of force and some residents are concerned bolstering the ranks and bringing in more officers is going to make things worse. Some residents have suggested the money should be used for affordable housing projects and addressing homelessness.
In his vote against adding the measure to the ballot, Councilman Dave Donelson raised similar questions about the polling process aimed at gauging the public's appetite for such a measure.
He also parsed it out into two separate issues: does the city need a new police training center, and whether a TABOR measure is necessary or the smartest way to do it.
"Even those who support the police training center don't need to support this. I think we have other sources to get the money," he said. "If we're going to borrow 90 percent of it, hell, borrow 100 percent of it and let people have their TABOR refund."
How does TABOR work?
The refunds are from TABOR or the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. TABOR uses a formula based on population growth and inflation to cap how much tax revenues Colorado Springs 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.
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