County OKs $4.33M contract to finish section of Riverfront Trail
Mesa County commissioners voted 2-1 Monday to approve a $4.33 million contract to finish the third and final phase of a project connecting the Colorado Riverfront Trail between Grand Junction and Fruita.
Commissioner Rose Pugliese offered the lone dissenting vote on the contract with Englewood-based Hudspeth & Associates, saying taxpayer money could be better used elsewhere at a time when the county is looking to cut $8.8 million from its overall budget next year. The project will use up to $500,000 from the county and $811,000 Conservation Fund dollars, which Pugliese said could be used to fund parks instead of the trail project.
“I’ve heard overwhelmingly at budget meetings and going out in the community that this is not a priority right now,” Pugliese said.
Commissioner Steve Acquafresca countered that the county was getting “a darn good deal” by having the rest of the bill covered by other municipalities, the Riverfront Foundation and Great Outdoors Colorado, which agreed to pay $2.9 million from its lottery-funded coffers. Assistant County Attorney Angela Barnes said the penalty for not using the Great Outdoors Colorado grant was unclear but it could jeopardize the county’s ability to get more GOCO grants in the future.
“I campaigned in my first election and in my re-election to support the continued development of the Riverfront Trail, leveraging outside dollars as much as possible,” Acquafresca said. “Getting almost $9 for every Mesa County dollar is an opportunity we probably will not have again in the future.”
Commissioner John Justman questioned using any county money for the project when the prospect of making cuts to the Sheriff’s Office or District Attorney’s Office looms. He asked county staff if any money could be cut from the original contract amount of $4.5 million. County Parks and Landscapes Manager Greg Linza responded the county could shave $206,209 off the total by decreasing a force account for extra work and unpriced items from 10 percent of the project cost to 5 percent. With that change in place, he voted with Acquafresca to approve the contract.
The commissioners’ decision followed nearly three hours of public testimony from people asking the county to either tighten its belt and push the project to another year or complete the project now in hopes of attracting people to the Grand Valley. Dan Ford of Fruita said he retired here from the Dallas area because the community invests in amenities like trails.
“It attracts quality people to our county as it improves quality of life for we who are already here,” he said.
David Grossman of the Grand Valley Trails Association said it’s important for commissioners to remember county government is not a business with a goal of generating profits but a government body with the purpose of ensuring well-being in the community.
“If we’re such a happy community with our trails and recreation, why are our suicide rates continuing to increase?” Pugliese asked Grossman after his time at the podium during the meeting’s public comment period. She also questioned Grand Junction City Councilor Bennett Boeschenstein about his support for the trail project when the city may cut $20,000 in funding for Grand Valley Transit.
“I do not want the city to cut that money,” Boeschenstein said, adding he would try to convince other councilors to restore it in the city’s 2014 budget.
District 51 School Board member Jeff Leany told commissioners tabling the trail project at this time would be “doing the right thing.”
“If you don’t have the dollars to do something, you don’t do it,” he said.
Freedom! Colorado Chairman Kevin McCarney said he is part of the “spandex crowd” that likes to use the Riverfront Trail, but he was not in favor of the project in light of impending budget cuts.
“We cannot afford feel-good projects,” he said.