By Lisa Young
Delta County’s Back the Badge initiative strongly promoted on a number of county social media pages drew the attention of the Daily Sentinel recently with an article alleging that the county may be violating campaign finance laws.
According to the article published Aug. 30, someone from the campaign posted on government run social media sites, primarily Facebook pages, promoting the initiative and advertising free yard signs available at the Delta County Sheriff’s office and other police departments around the county.
It’s still unclear if the county has violated the Colorado Fair Campaign Practices Act; however, a number of finance experts quoted in the Sentinel story say, “state law is clear that using taxpayer-funded government resources in a political campaign is a big no-no.”
Robbie LeValley, county administrator, commented on the allegations via email to the Delta County Independent last week.
“Delta County is aware of the alleged campaign finance violations regarding the Back the Badge initiative referred to in the Daily Sentinel article dated August 30, 2020. Delta County is committed to complying with all applicable election laws. If any violations exist, they will be rectified and corrected.”
According to the Daily Sentinel story, Delta County Sheriff Mark Taylor also vowed to “correct any possible violations, perceived or otherwise.”
To date, the county as well as several municipalities have not removed the Facebook posts promoting the free yard signs available at local law enforcement agencies. (See Editor's Note)
One local watchdog organization said it is aware of the allegations but has not filed an official campaign finance complaint choosing to wait and see how the county moves forward on any campaign efforts.
The breakdown for how the funds from Delta County Public Safety Improvements Sales Tax (Back the Badge) will be distributed shows county law enforcement receiving the largest percentage from the estimated $2.7 million in additional taxes.
Delta County Sheriff’s Office at 52% could garnish nearly $1.4 million. Delta Police Department at 31% or $850,000, Cedaredge Police Department at 7% or $192,000, Paonia police at 6% or $164,000 and the Hotchkiss Town Marshal’s Office at 4% or $109,000.
The breakdown is based on census population and service calls. County officials opted for a countywide sales tax over an increase in property taxes since citizens, visitors and tourists use the services.
Money from the sales tax increase will be spent on “urgent and critical law enforcement needs and to prevent the rise of criminal activity in Delta County,” according to the ballot language recently approved via resolution by Delta County Commissioners.
To date, individual law enforcement agencies have not given a definitive account on how they will spend the funds provided the measure passes in November. The agencies will receive their portion of the taxes on a monthly basis or “as otherwise directed by the Board (of County Commissioners) and in any event no less than annually.”
If any of the law enforcement agencies fold or cease to exist, their percentage will go into Delta County Sheriff’s Office coffers. The 2020 version of Back the Badge does have a ten-year sunset running from Jan. 1, 2020 through Dec. 31, 2030.
Editor's Note: Darnell Place-Wise, county public information officer, contacted the DCI in regards to the county not removing the Back the Badge Facebook post. Place-Wise stated," A governmental entity cannot remove a Facebook post if it's been liked, commented on, or shared. To do so would open up any governmental entity to a 1st amendment lawsuit, Delta County will NOT take down any posts about Back the Badge for this very reason." Place-Wise also stated that Back the Badge yard signs are not taxpayer funded.