Drainage, pot split commission candidates

Mesa County District 1 county commissioner candidates Rose Pugliese, left, and Dave Edwards talk with each other during a candidate forum hosted by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce on Monday at the Grand Vista Hotel.

Mesa County District 3 county commissioner candidate Mel Mulder, right, speaks with his fellow candidates Jim Doody, left, and John Justman during a candidate forum on Monday.

Two of the challengers for seats on the Mesa County Commission said they want the county to dismiss its lawsuit against the Grand Valley Drainage District.

Dave Edwards and Mel Mulder, both Democrats, said the county should pull out of the lawsuit in comments before the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, which is the other plaintiff in the case against the drainage district’s fees.

Edwards and Mulder are challenging commissioners Rose Pugliese and John Justman, both Republicans, respectively, in commissioner districts 1 and 3.

Pugliese and Justman both voiced support for the lawsuit.

An unaffiliated candidate, Jim Doody, said the suit should continue and another organization should move forward with its own effort to deal with stormwater issues.

“The suit will lose,” Edwards told about 70 people at the Grand Vista Hotel.

“We truly believe in the suit,” Pugliese said. “We believe it’s a tax, not a fee.”

A Mesa County District Court judge found that the district’s charge for stormwater improvements was “in the nature of a fee” in rejecting a request for a preliminary injunction halting its collection.

The drainage district this year instituted a $3-per-month fee for most residences and $3 per-month fee for each 2,500 square feet of impervious surface on the properties of businesses, nonprofits, local governments and other property owners with the 90-square-mile district on the north side of the Colorado River.

The fee should remain in place, Mulder said, and the 5-2-1 Drainage Authority should establish its own fee in its 900-square mile area on both sides of the river. The drainage district could administer the actual work done by the authority.

Justman criticized the drainage district’s willingness to reimburse School District 51’s $114,000 payment because the school district was meeting a public-education requirement by showing a video by the drainage district about why the charge is needed. He has received calls from business owners who told him the charge was excessive.

“If the drainage district had taken care of its TABOR calculations, it wouldn’t be in the fix that it’s in,” Justman said.

That’s true, said Doody, who called for the suit to go forward.

Ultimately, Doody said later, the 5-2-1 Drainage Authority should deal with the stormwater needs of the county, which could amount to $100 million.

As chairman of the authority, he negotiated the drainage district’s impact fee down to $500, Edwards said.

Recreational marijuana also split the candidates.

If local governments want to tap the $1 billion-per-year marijuana industry, “they should work with the business owners” who deal with other merchandise, such as clothing and rope, Doody said.

Residents should be able to vote on recreational marijuana, said Edwards, who noted that Palisade has a measure on the November ballot, placed there by the town board on which he serves.

Voters in Fruita said no, Mulder said, “but it will happen.”

Justman and Pugliese both rejected putting a question on the ballot, with Justman adding, “If marijuana is so good, how about gambling?”


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