Expanding commission to five members will bring Mesa County into 21st century

When Mesa County was carved out of the west end of Gunnison County back in 1883, it was a dusty outpost that only began to evolve into an important regional center with the arrival of the railroad four years later. Today, we live in a rapidly growing county with a booming economy expected to sustain 225,000 residents by 2025.

Since the horse and buggy days, there’s been little change in Mesa County’s governing structure. Three county commissioners made decisions in those early times. Today, three commissioners are still expected to make increasingly complicated decisions and represent more than 140,000 people supported by a diversifying economy that now includes strong manufacturing, technology, medical, energy, education and service sectors.

Expanding the Board of County Commissioners is not a new concept. First discussed in the 1980s, the idea was revived twice in the 1990s. Only once were citizens given a chance to vote on the matter, and they rejected a complicated multi-step process that also involved becoming a home-rule county. 

Now, after several years of renewed discussion, Mesa County voters will decide a much simpler two-part question. At the urging of the county’s five municipalities, the commissioners have referred to voters Referred Measure 1A. If approved, it would add two additional commissioners, to be elected in 2010. 

Regardless of how voters answer that question, they will also be asked to select one of two methods to implement the expansion. Method 1 would have three commissioners elected from districts by voters in those districts and two more commissioners elected at large by all county voters. Method 2, requiring a complicated redrawing to create five districts, would simply add two commissioners, with all five elected by all county voters.

Best of all, this step to modern, more representative county government will not raise our taxes.

Current county commissioners who formulated the ballot question included a cost of $174,274 per year for salaries and benefits for two additional commissioners. The county administrator estimates additional operating costs at $35,308 annually, including administrative support and travel and also estimates one-time startup costs of $42,000 for office space and equipment. Once implemented in January of 2011, the ongoing yearly investment of approximately $210,000 for two new commissioners would make up slightly more than one-tenth of one percent of the county budget and would be paid out of existing revenue sources.

As former elected officials of Mesa County, we support both the addition of two new commissioners and Method 1, which increases accountability to district voters, creates the opportunity for rural representation, still allows citizens to vote for a majority of the five member board and is easiest to implement. Joining us in supporting these measure are former County Commissioners Doralyn Genova and Jim Spehar and former County Assessor Ron Teck

Referred Measure 1A and Method 1 are also supported by a diverse coalition of county residents and groups, including a bipartisan steering committee made up of leaders from agriculture, business, non-profit organizations and government. 

Support also comes from both labor organizations and the Chambers of Commerce in Fruita, Grand Junction and Palisade. Environmental organizations join farmers, ranchers, fruit growers and winemakers in supporting 1A and Method 1. Endorsements have come from community leaders in De Beque and Collbran, Palisade, Fruita and Grand Junction as well as unincorporated areas of the county. 

The Daily Sentinel, and other area publications have endorsed expansion of the Board of Mesa County Commissioners. The League of Women Voters of Mesa County first adopted a policy supporting five commissioners 13 years ago and maintains that position today.

Additionally, in 2007, city council members and trustees in Collbran, De Beque, Fruita, Grand Junction and Palisade adopted formal resolutions seeking expansion of the board of commissioners.

This broad coalition of supporters is not asking that we break new ground. If voters approve, Mesa County would be the sixth of Colorado’s 10 largest counties, joining the combined city-county governments in Broomfield and Denver, as well as Arapaho, El Paso and Weld counties in having at least five decision makers. No Colorado county that has expanded its governing board has ever reversed that decision. It’s also worth noting that every other publicly elected board within Mesa County has at least five voting members.

We salute the current Mesa County commissioners for giving citizens a chance to make this important decision. We also urge county electors to join us in voting “Yes” on Referred Measure 1A and Method 1 to bring 21st century government to Mesa County.

Gena Harrison is a former Mesa County treasurer. Tillie Bishop is a former Mesa County commissioner.


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