Firefighters, police officers propose tax ballot question

Firefighters, police officers propose tax ballot question

PUEBLO, Colo. - Pueblo voters could decide this year whether to increase the city's sales tax to pay for public safety measures.

Pueblo police officers and firefighters want to add a question on the November ballot that would increase sales tax by half a cent.

Capt. Damian Pritts, vice president of Pueblo Firefighters IAFF Local 3, said the money would help the department get back to being fully staffed like it was three years ago.

"With 19,000 calls that we run, I believe 90-95 percent of those are medical," Pritts said. "We don't have a full-time medical coordinator."

Pritts said the tax money will help the city pay for unfunded fire positions. It would also be spent on new equipment -- an increase in calls means fire trucks are wearing out even sooner. 

"They're not lasting the 15 years like they used to last. We're only getting 10-12 years," Pritts said.

Retaining firefighters hasn't been easy, eithers. Pritts said two, young paramedic firefighters left the department this year for better-paying jobs because the city has frozen the salaries of 23 of its youngest firefighters.

"All of us old guys that have been here we're already at the top of our scale, it doesn't affect us. It just affects the youngest and they're the ones that are more able to move on," Pritts said.

But another tax question on the ballot may not be what some voters want to see. Last November, voters overwhelming reject a half-cent, countywide sales tax that would have been spent on six organizations, including the State Fair.

"We need to figure out how to increase our tax base without increasing our taxes," said Ted Freeman, who opposes the tax measure. "Because the people in this city are too poor. They're already overtaxed."

Councilwoman Ami Nawrocki believes the tax will pass for the simple reason that it's being voted on only by city residents. Last year's tax proposal, Question 1A, would have affected the entire county.

"That, in and of itself, will reflect much different results," Nawrocki said. "Our county is much more diverse both geographically and in population than our city is so I think there's a lot more commonality amongst our city residents."

Pritts said the details of the ballot question haven't been decided but the tax would likely expire after five years. 

The Pueblo Police Department would also benefit from the tax proposal. There's a hiring freeze on 14 officer positions.

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