It is no secret that Park County residents enjoy some of the lowest tax rates in the state, and that Park County voters have flatly rejected a myriad of ballot initiatives proposing tax increases in recent election cycles.

Meanwhile, Park County Sheriff Tom McGraw and his staff struggle daily to cover a county the size of Delaware with four deputies per shift, rising crime rates and increasingly heavy traffic throughout the U.S. Highway 285 corridor.

PCSO deputies are asked to perform their duties while tolerating some of the lowest salaries in the state, and some are forced to live in Denver and commute to work because their wages are no match for the cost of Park County real estate.

Consequently, Park County voters will have to decide Nov. 2 if they are willing to pay a one percent sales tax to help fund an underpaid and understaffed Park County Sheriff’s Office, or if the one percent increase in sales tax is simply more than they can bear. Based on their recent voting history and steadfast resistance to increased taxes of any variety, a one percent increase in sales tax might just be out of the question.

Most Park County voters – myself included – believe that defunding law enforcement entities is a ridiculously misguided notion. It will be interesting to see if voters are willing to help fund the PCSO with a penny sales tax on every dollar, or if those precious pennies take precedence over the sheriff’s deputies charged with serving and protecting us on a daily basis.

Amazingly, I’m sure many Park County residents will struggle mightily with the decision, and will look for every excuse they can find to vote ‘No.” I hope that’s not the case, but as we’ve seen, many of our neighbors vote for themselves and their wallets above all else almost without exception. That’s unfortunately been the trend around here in recent elections, and the best indicator of what will happen tomorrow is what happened yesterday.

Let’s hope for a break from tradition on this issue, even if it does cost us all - God forbid - a penny or two.

Education

In addition to considering whether or not to support the Sheriff’s Office, voters will also be asked to consider the needs of our public schools.

The Platte Canyon School District-1 Board of Education recently held a special meeting to address aging facilities at Deer Creek Elementary School, which was constructed in 1973.

The state has concluded that making necessary repairs to the Deer Creek facility now exceeds the cost of replacement. That same grim assessment was also reached with regards to the Deer Creek Preschool.

It is against that backdrop that the board approved a ballot issue to assist with (along with grants that would cover 50 percent of the total costs) the construction of a new pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade elementary school, as well as improvements to the middle/high school site to address safety and security needs at that location.

Again, voters will have to weigh what is in the best interest of PCSD students against their desire to keep taxes as low as possible. Hmmm ... I wonder which they will choose.

The situation is no less dire for the Park County School District RE-2 in South Park. The district has struggled to attract and retain teachers and staff in recent years because salaries for those employees simply don’t cover the costs of living and housing in and around the vicinity of Fairplay.

Those unfortunate realities led to a prolonged teachers strike that gained widespread media attention and prompted sharp division within the community during the fall of 2019.

Most recently, administrators within the district have noted that attracting and retaining quality teachers and staff remains a top priority and that there is still much work to be done on that front.

As a means of achieving those and other vital objectives, PCSD RE-2 will be placing a mill levy override initiative on the ballot Nov. 2 for Park County voters to ponder.  

The measure, dubbed 4B, if passed, would:

1. Fund a vocational tech program

2. Increase educational opportunities for students

3. Attract and retain teachers and staff

4. Increase mental health support for students

5. Procure improved educational technology

6. Increase funding for band and athletics programs

7. Increase operational funding for the Guffey and Lake George Charter Schools

All for one, one for all

As I sit here today, I have difficulty thinking of more important topics to any community than law enforcement and education.

The PCSO serves as our most primary law enforcement entity, and its financial health is central to our individual and collective safety and wellbeing. Education and quality schools and teachers are vital for the development of our youth, and it should go without saying that youth are the most precious commodity to be found in this, or any other community.

I hear some people say they don’t have kids in school, so they are not going to vote “Yes” when local school districts request financial assistance. Do they realize that if they or their children ever attended public schools, that their education was paid for by tax-payers capable of seeing past their own self interests?

Do they realize that taxes are the price of admission to live in a free society? Do they realize that if everyone only paid taxes when it served to benefit their own set of personal interests, that the quality of life we all enjoy would deteriorate beyond their wildest imaginations? Are they capable seeing the world through a communal lens, rather than a narrow and self-absorbed quest to for individual wealth?

Admittedly, there are details in virtually every ballot initiative that might make them less than perfect, and there are always excuses that voters can find to justify voting “No” on such measures to save a penny here or there. Park County voters know that well, and they have found those excuses and saved those pennies on numerous occasions in the recent past.

Let’s hope Park County voters look beyond the prism of their own interests this time and elect to assist each of these public entities for the long-term benefit of our communities and our county. Let’s hope they realize that when public entities such as law enforcement and schools suffer, the quality of life for all of us is greatly diminished.

Let’s vote “Yes” Nov. 2 to support our law enforcement personnel, our teachers and our kids. It might not be the cheapest option, but it’s the right option.

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