City, county at odds over tax for safety

Rick Taggart

Grand Junction City Council members displayed frustration with their Mesa County counterparts Monday over a proposed county ballot measure to raise taxes to pay for public safety.

That’s because the seven-member council doesn’t know what such a tax hike would mean for the region’s financially struggling 911 communications center, which serves 23 law enforcement agencies in the Grand Valley.

Several council members said they were frustrated over the issue because they have been given few details about the proposed 0.37 percent sales tax increase that Mesa County Commissioner Scott McInnis, Sheriff Matt Lewis and District Attorney Dan Rubinstein want to place before voters in the fall.

“None of us have seen the ballot question,” Mayor Rick Taggart said at the council’s twice-a-month workshop. “That hasn’t been shared with us.”

Taggart, who along with several city officials has been trying to work with the county over the matter, said the county has three options, the first two of which are to endorse the ballot measure or reject it outright.

But Taggart said that late last week McInnis suggested a possible third option: endorse the measure with assurances that he and the county would work with the city to find a long-term solution to funding the communications center.

While Taggart said he was taking McInnis at his word, other council members were not so confident.

“For Scott to walk in and tell them what they’re going to do, I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Councilor Phyllis Norris said, referring to Commissioners Rose Pugliese and John Justman.

“This is where the new guy comes in and says it stinks and it smells funny and it’s a redirection of funds,” added Councilor Duke Wortmann, who was just elected to the council in April. “It’s Scott by himself. If you add the other two involved, there would be some sensibility in the issue. There’s no sensibility at this point because Scott’s making an end run on this thing.”

Taggart said he didn’t believe Wortmann’s assessment of the situation was entirely fair.

Still, he said the city’s portion of the proposed tax increase, should it pass, would only be 6.6 percent of the hike, or about $500,000.

The entire tax increase is expected to generate about $7.1 million a year.

That’s hardly enough to cover the city’s public safety needs, much less what it spends on the 911 center, other council members said, some of whom suggested that the city consider placing its own public safety tax hike on the ballot.

The council said that what needs to happen is for the communications center to be operated by its own authority, and allow that authority to raise fees to generate the money it needs to operate adequately.

The only consensus the council could come to was to delay deciding what it will do with the tax proposal, but have the mayor continue to talk to the county about the issue.

In a related matter, there was consensus among the council to endorse two proposed ballot measures that the District 51 School Board plans to have on the fall ballot.

The board wants to issue about $118 million in bonds to fund specific school construction projects and get a mill levy override to raise another $6.5 million to lengthen the school year, purchase more computers and laptops and boost its maintenance budget.


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