Don’t throw economy out with drain water

The Grand Valley Drainage District, an entity created when this region’s economy was primarily agrarian and there were no federal rules on how drainage water must be handled, is having problems dealing with the regulatory and development realities of the 21st century.

But that doesn’t mean the district should attempt to halt all new development in the valley because it is bumping up against its financial limits, as leaders of the district threatened to do at a meeting with county and municipal officials Monday.

Thankfully, district officials backed off from that threat during a board meeting Tuesday.

Make no mistake, the drainage district does face real problems, especially financially. The district expects to spend roughly $1.8 million next year on projects to improve handling of runoff water in the valley, but its projected revenue is only $1.4 million. A significant part of its budget fears for the future comes from anticipated federal rules that will be more restrictive rules for dealing with runoff water from places like large parking lots.

Drainage district officials said the board hasn’t discussed raising its property tax mill levy to increase revenue. Its revenue from that mill levy has declined as the assessed value of the property within the district has dropped since 2009.

Boosting revenue by increasing the mill levy would be difficult in Mesa County in the current economy. In 2006, when the economy was still booming locally, the drainage district put two ballot proposals before voters. One would have increased the district’s mill levy by one mill for five years. The other would have freed the district from TABOR Amendment revenue restrictions. Both lost by margins of nearly 2-1.

State and federal grants are another revenue source, although we assume the drainage district has been diligent in applying for them.

Tapping developers — and by extension, new home buyers or the owners of new business facilities — with higher fees is another potential source of revenue. But, in an economic climate where getting new developments off the ground is extremely difficult, that seems like a self-defeating enterprise.

Finally, there is the possibility of the county and each of the municipalities in the valley contributing funds to help the drainage district cover its costs. We suspect nobody with any of those government entities wants to shell out additional funds for drainage projects when they have enough needs of their own and their coffers are not exactly overflowing. Still, the idea merits further discussion.

One thing is certain: A development moratorium would be counterproductive for everyone because it would keep assessed values flat. As Fruita City Manager Clint Kinney put it during Monday’s meeting, such an action “would be in nobody’s best interest, including the (drainage) district.”


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