Council won’t put public safety facility to vote in ’09

By MIKE WIGGINS
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The Grand Junction City Council decided Wednesday night not to return to voters in November and ask them for the second time in as many years to approve a tax increase to pay for new public safety buildings.

The council voted 5-2 against pursuing a ballot measure that would have bumped up the city sales-tax rate from 2.75 to 3 percent. Mayor Bruce Hill and council members Bonnie Beckstein, Tom Kenyon, Gregg Palmer and Bill Pitts voted against placing the question on the ballot. Council members Teresa Coons and Linda Romer Todd voted for moving ahead with a question.

Todd said she believes now is the time, when unemployment is high and the cost of construction materials is down, for the government to step up with a project that will meet public safety needs and put people to work.

“This is the time for the community to say we can all give a little to get a lot for the city of Grand Junction and Mesa County,” she said.

But most council members indicated they don’t think city residents will approve a tax increase in the midst of a recession. They also said they and city staff need to take more time to explore various project levels and price tags, share those options with the public and get feedback.

“As much as I want to see things start happening, the public has definitely stated that we need to slow down, we need to listen to what they’re saying, we need to get their input,” Beckstein said.

After voters last November rejected both a quarter-cent sales-tax increase and a
Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights revenue-collection exemption to fund a $98 million initiative, the city scaled back the scope of the project and produced five project options ranging in cost from $53 million to $78 million.

All five options included a new police station, downtown fire station and 911 center and excluded a parking garage and new municipal court. The inclusion or exclusion of other elements such as neighborhood fire stations, training space and storage space accounted for the differences in price.

The ballot question this fall would have sunset the tax hike in 2040, and there would have been no TABOR provision.

Teri Cavanagh, chief executive officer of Cobb & Associates, a Grand Junction marketing firm, recommended that the council hold off on another ballot measure. She said during Wednesday night’s meeting that a mixture of public misconceptions, hyperbole and confusion about the public safety initiative have stalled any momentum the initiative could gain.

She also said the city needs to do a better job of engaging in two-way communication with the community about the initiative.

“We believe (residents are) still unclear about what the options are and what the ramifications are,” Cavanagh said.

After debating their decision for more than an hour and voting, council members moved into a workshop to begin brainstorming next steps to address public safety needs and funding new police and fire stations, among other facilities.

It’s unclear when, if ever, another ballot measure will come forward. Several council members have expressed reluctance about putting a question on the November 2010 general election ballot because of the number of measures expected to appear then.


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