Decision time on public safety measure
By MIKE WIGGINS
Seated behind the dais in the City Hall auditorium virtually a year ago to the date, weighing whether to ask city residents to approve a sales-tax hike to pay for new police and fire buildings, then-Grand Junction City Councilman Doug Thomason voiced the prevailing opinion of the council.
“It’s not a real tough decision,” Thomason said. “The need has been clearly identified.”
At the time, western Colorado was holding its own against a sinking national economy.
Virtually anyone who wanted a job had one. Sales-tax revenue continued to roll in. City officials were touting a phone survey that asserted 70 percent of those polled supported the tax increase.
Fast-forward 12 months, and the decision facing the council appears to be anything but easy.
When council members convene this evening to discuss whether to go back to the ballot box a second time — voters rejected two questions last November — they’ll do so against a much different backdrop.
City sales-tax receipts are down by double digits, the sharpest decline in 25 years.
Unemployment rates have soared to their highest levels in 15 years.
A majority of the council, questioned individually by The Daily Sentinel last month, indicated they were unlikely to push for another ballot measure this fall. But that was before the board had a chance to meet as a group to discuss the implications of a second ballot measure.
Last fall’s $98 million public safety initiative has been pared down, with five options ranging in price from $53 million to $78 million. A parking garage and new municipal court have been removed from all the options. The least expensive options also eliminate one or some combination of the following: property and evidence storage, specialized vehicle storage, training space and neighborhood fire stations.
All of the options would include a three- or four-story building that would house a new police station, downtown fire station and 911 communications center.
If the council agrees to pose a question to voters on Nov. 3, it will look much different than last fall’s measure. Voters will not be asked to exempt the city from Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights revenue-collection limitations. And the proposed quarter-cent sales-tax increase would sunset in 2040.
Teri Cavanagh, chief executive officer of Cobb & Associates, a local marketing firm retained by the city to examine what happened with last November’s ballot measure and offer suggestions on how the city might approach the issue differently, has recommended the city not return to the voters this fall.
In a report to council, Cavanagh suggests the city needs to engage in more dialogue with the community.
“It is the conclusion of this report that a new public safety plan should find its public support through a well-articulated citizen mandate, developed by a system designed to facilitate a two-way public dialog,” she wrote.
Tonight’s meeting begins at 7 at City Hall. The council isn’t expected to take public testimony.