Clifton-Fruitvale funding blues

The Mesa County commissioners have made several attempts to develop new ways to pay for services in the densely populated but unincorporated areas of Clifton and Fruitvale.

We don’t blame them for considering yet another option: possible creation of a public improvement district with its own sales tax.

The plan to establish a Clifton-Fruitvale sales of up to 1 percent would have to be approved by affected businesses, perhaps in 2012.

Before that occurs, however, the county must survey businesses and commercial property owners in the area to determine how much support there might be for such an increase. Then commercial property owners would have to file a petition with the county to create a public improvement district.

If that is accomplished, the public improvement district could be established to use the sales tax revenue, but only if a majority of commercial property owners and businessess within the district vote to approve the tax. The tax money would be used entirely within the district. It wouldn’t go into the county general fund.

There are solid reasons to seek more funding for the Clifton and Fruitvale region. The largely residential area — with a few commercial centers interspersed — has some of the highest population density in Mesa County. But these areas aren’t part of any municipality, so they don’t pay municipal taxes. Nevertheless, because of their density and other factors, they require a disproportionate amount of county services, particularly in road maintenance and improvements, as well as law enforcement.

Essentially, the rest of the county’s taxpayers are subsidizing county services in those areas. It’s why the county is considering reducing its spending on roads in the Clifton-Fruitvale area in coming years unless additional money is found.

A few years ago, the county began an effort to engage Clifton and Fruitvale residents, seeking ideas on how to pay the additional costs required to serve the area and meet future needs.

Forming a new municipality was quickly discarded as being cost-prohibitive. For nearly a year, some residents worked with county staffers to examine the possibility of annexing all or part of the region to the city of Grand Junction. That effort was also dropped when it became clear there wasn’t sufficient support among property owners in the area.

Two years ago, the county created a special improvement district for parts of the Clifton-Fruitvale area and established a 2-mill levy property tax for properties annexed to the district. On Monday, however, they eliminated that mill levy. It has generated little money because only a handful of properties have annexed to the district. Also, real estate brokers and property owners in the area have complained about the district and mill levy.

The public improvement district and sales tax appears to be a better option to help fund county services in the Clifton-Fruitvale area. At the very least, it deserves the effort the county commissioners are expending to explore it further.


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