Fountain will vote on Public Safety mill issue
Last updated 7/20/2022 at 9:57am | View PDF
This fall Fountain voters will be asked to approve a 6.65-mill property tax increase to beef up police, fire and EMS staffing and operations.
The City Council voted July 12 to place the ballot measure on the upcoming General Election ballot. This follows a recent survey that showed overwhelming support for the city's public safety departments.
Meanwhile, a proposal for another ballot issue – enacting a 1-percent tax to join the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (PPRTA), with a goal of generating more funding for local street repairs and possibly future new road projects – has been put on hold, with promises to work toward trying for that request next year.
The recent surveys indicated that while many voters did approve of the idea to add a tax for streets, many did not want to vote for both public safety and street tax increases at the same time.
City Manager Scott Trainor said while both proposals are needed and relatively well supported, he recommended not asking too much of Fountain residents all at once.
"It would be a real tough ask, to ask our citizens to support both at this time," he said.
The city's current millage rate is 10.239, which is an average of $249 per year for homeowners with properties valued at $350,000. Other entities such as sanitation, school districts and others have additional property taxes.
In the last couple of weeks, the city revised the proposal from a 6.2-mill increase, as mentioned in the survey, to 6.65. The additional 6.65 mills would result in an average $4.67 per month, or $56 per year, net increase for homeowners. Officials said they decided on the minor increase because a new state law actually drops property taxes slightly.
"I think that's a very minimal amount of money," resident Penny Cimino said, likening it to one Starbucks drink per month.
Several other residents spoke in favor of the public safety measure, and no one mentioned any opposition. R.J. Carland, who described himself as a former firefighter, EMT and police officer who currently lives on the east side of the train tracks near Fountain-Fort Carson High School, described the situation as one of great urgency.
"Time is life," he said of response times, especially for residents on the east side whose emergencies might be slowed down by trains.
Carland said that while streets are a worthy cause, he would prefer to hit a few potholes than hear about a student dying at the high school because of a slow response, or a police officer suicide due to burnout from the job. Boosting staffing levels and resources is critical to maintain the current force and getting ahead of the rising crime rates, he said.
"This is your chance to actually beat the curve on something," he said.
Fran Carrick said the need for a solid police force is especially evident as it pertains to the city's children, "our most important resources." She noted relationships of School Resource Officers with students have a proven record of preventing problems at the school level, but the lack of entertainment or venues for youth to go after school is not helping keep them out of trouble.
"I am all for this being on the ballot, and I will support this 100 percent," she said.
City Council members were equally adamant about their support for the proposal and said they would be "pounding the pavement" in the coming months to try to persuade the community to vote yes on the measure.
"Our police have been having some major busts that save lives," Council Member Frederick Hinton said.
"When we hire more police, we decrease crime in our area," Council Member Detra Duncan added.
In other business, the council voted to approve numerous changes to the Fountain Employee Policies and Procedures Handbook. Trainor said this is the most comprehensive overhaul of the handbook during his tenure, thanks to the new Human Resources director, Connie Brisnehan. However, many of the changes are organizational, and some are a result of state or federal laws changing.
Some of the most discussed amendments included a removal of personal days. Instead, the city now offers full holiday, Juneteenth, and two half-day holiday, Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, to make up for the personal days. Brisnehan said many employees were not using the personal days, and now they will get those days off. State law dictates that there can't be a "use it or lose it" policy for those, which is what was happening a lot of the time.
Employees practicing concealed carry of handguns while on the job was another major point of discussion. The council had adopted a policy allowing concealed carry in 2013. It gives the city manager the authority to review and approve, or disapprove, employee requests to carry during the course of the work day. However, Council Member Gordon Rick raised the question of how the city handles situations where an employee might need to go on a resident's property or in their home to perform work, and whether there is a policy for that. The council agreed that some additional review of the policy may need to occur.
Brisnehan said there are currently five employees with city manager permission to conceal carry. The vetting process for those is extensive, John Trylch added. In addition, the employee's department manager has to sign off on a request before it ever gets to the city manager.
Some members of the council questioned the potential for problems if an employee becomes disgruntled or faces a personnel action while carrying, asking if such an employee would be permitted to conceal carry to a personnel meeting under such circumstances.
Police Chief Chris Heberer explained that the city has a risk assessment team in place to identify and take action if any concerns about an individual should arise.
Mayor Pro Tem Tamara Estes said she trusted the process that's in place, along with Trainor's due diligence in reviewing such applications. Trainor added that if a particular employee with an existing concealed carry approval in place were to raise red flags, that permission could be revoked.
"The city manager giveth, and the city manager taketh away," he said.
Regarding personnel issues, the handbook outlines a new system for disciplinary actions, including adding the city manager to the Disciplinary Review Team deciding any possible disciplinary actions such as demotion, suspension or termination. That team, including the department head, HR manager, and city attorney, will meet before a decision is made. The handbook revision also removes the city manager from the appeals process so he isn't involved at two different levels of the same decision. The revision increases the number of days for an appeal hearing with a Personnel Board to 45 days. The board is made up of three community members.
The council approved the revised handbook, with some revisions still in progress in the highlighted topics.
In a related matter, the council voted for the city to opt out of FAMLI, a new state program similar to FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act). Officials said employees may still participate on their own, but the city offers much of what this program requires already and that participation would cost the city a significant amount of money for premiums.
Also, the city recognized Waste Connections Fountain Landfill for its donation of $3,000 toward the FPD K-9 program. Heberer presented Adam Smith of Waste Connections a certificate of appreciation, and FPD Officer Melissa Warden introduced Boomer, the new K-9 assigned to Fountain-Fort Carson Schools.