County lets lone Clifton property owner decide tax district

This one-man, one-vote idea makes one commissioner uncomfortable

By LE ROY STANDISH

Two of three Mesa County Commissioners have voted for creating a taxing district for future residents of Clifton as a way to pay for services such as police protection.

Commissioner Steve Acquafresca said no. Commissioner Janet Rowland, who along with Commissioner Craig Meis voted for the district on Aug. 10, said Acquafresca is being “irresponsible.”

Acquafresca said this week he remains opposed to a tax on new residents to pay for longstanding problems in Clifton. Existing residents would enjoy all the benefits but not pay any of the new tax, he said.

Acquafresca also said he doesn’t like the idea of allowing just one property owner to vote for creation of the taxing district, especially, he added, if that property owner believed he had been pressured into accepting the idea so that his development would be approved by the county.

The Mesa County Bookcliff Urban Services Public Improvement District is now just a 2 1/2-acre lot owned by Steve Alpert at the northeast corner of 32 1/2 and E roads. If Alpert votes in November to create the taxing district,  developers of new housing would need to put their land into the district, even though their land would not be contiguous to Alpert’s. The improvement district would take on a patchwork appearance around Clifton as homes are built.

The commission Aug. 10 also approved placing the tax district measure on the November ballot for Alpert’s vote. Acquafresca also voted against that measure.

“One property owner is going to vote this (tax) into effect,” Acquafresca said of Alpert.

“He had to agree to create this new taxing district to enjoy approvals. To me, that is a quid-pro-quo situation and I’m uncomfortable with it.”

Alpert, owner of SLM Development, initially said he “didn’t have any choice” in the creation of the district and that it seemed to be a condition of approval for his subdivision.

“I really do feel like I was coerced,” Alpert said last week. “It was almost as if I had a gun against my head.”

Alpert said he has since met with Mesa County Administrator Jon Peacock and had the district explained to him. He now says he will vote in favor of allowing the district to collect taxes, if for now from just him.

“I am not opposed to it, now,” Alpert said. “I think it is only going to be a long-term benefit, and as long as it is not going to have bureaucratic bloat, I am OK with that.”

The ballot proposal Alpert will consider would start the tax rate at 2 mills (one mill is one-tenth of one cent). The mill would automatically increase to 14 mills once the district includes 100 homes and it could be increased to 22 mills after the district increases to include 200 homes. The taxing district levy would appear on property tax bills.

Acquafresca said development in the area is not a drain on county resources.

“It’s not too much development,” Acquafresca said. “It is not breaking the county.”

Rowland said a majority of county residents are subsidizing law enforcement for the Clifton/Fruitvale area.

“If (Acquafresca) has not heard about the need for law enforcement in Clifton, he has not been paying attention,” Rowland said. “About 40 percent of (the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department’s) resources and deputies are used in the Clifton/Fruitvale area and the Fruitvale/Clifton area represents only 19 percent of the county population.”

Rowland called the district a “stopgap” measure, adding that the district will likely never grow to include 100 homes. It is a temporary solution until residents make a choice between incorporation or annexation by Grand Junction, she said.


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