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La Veta wrestles with dispatch fees

By Darrell Arnold

    As of February 1st, every time a La Veta peace officer writes a $15 parking ticket, it costs the taxpayers $10. That’s because the officer’s call to County Dispatch for a license check costs $25. Some taxpayers might conclude it would be fiscally better to not enforce the parking laws.

    La Veta Marshal Harold Willburn says, "We’re still going to do our job. We’re not going to let things go just to save the town money. And the town is trying to resolve this problem as soon as possible."

    The newly imposed dispatch charge is a result of Huerfano County taking over dispatch duties, and the County and the towns of La Veta and Walsenburg agreeing that that $25 per call is a realistic cost for that service.

    La Veta Mayor Mickey Schmidt explains, "This user-pay system was precipitated when the people voted against the proposed one-percent county sales tax that was earmarked to cover these dispatch services. It was voted down, so the various entities [La Veta Marshal’s Office, Walsenburg Police Department, and the Huerfano County Sheriff’s Office] are having to pony up for those costs."

    As a result of all of this, the Town of La Veta is looking at ways to pass the dispatch fees on to the people who cause those calls to be made.

    Says Schmidt, "We are going to do what we can to take that burden off the taxpayer and place it on the shoulders of the person responsible for the cost. We won’t be able to recover 100 percent of it, but we will be able to knock it down to where the townspeople are only paying for things that are incidental to town government and keeping the peace."

    For instance, if a tourist passes through and reports a dog being run over or some kind of vandalism, the town would likely not get reimbursed for that call. But the town is looking at ways to pass costs on to individuals who break the law.

   Schmidt says, "One of the things we can do is to give the municipal judge the authority to add that dispatch fee to his fines. If a person breaks a law that causes our law enforcement people to have to call dispatch, that person will reimburse the town for that cost."

   He continues, "Colorado statutes allows us to be more restrictive than what the state law requires. Our town attorney is currently looking into whether we have to pass enabling legislation for that to happen or whether it can just happen as part of the judge’s discretion."

   La Veta is well on the way to solving this dilemma. In fact, the Town Board is looking into incorporating such changes into a broader city ordinance (alterable by resolution) that establishes fee schedules for a variety of situations.

   Schmidt offers an example. "If an individual wants a variance for his property, an action that offers no compelling benefit to the town at large,  there will be a fee applied that is appropriate to the involvement of town personnel."