Sales tax plan for Fruitvale, Clifton tossed

A proposal to tack an additional 1 percent tax on sales in Clifton and Fruitvale to help pay for capital improvements is off the table, negated by a lukewarm response from business owners who either want nothing to do with the extra tax or aren’t willing to lead a petition drive to put it on the ballot.

Mesa County commissioners hosted a series of meetings late last year with business and property owners in and around the Interstate 70 Business Loop corridor to gauge their interest in forming a sales tax-funded public improvement district to pay for public works projects in the commercial areas of Clifton and Fruitvale. County leaders maintained all along it would be up to the business and property owners whether to tax themselves. Commissioners told The Daily Sentinel the feedback they received led them to abandon the idea.

“I think they’re looking for someone in the community to take the banner and run with it, and I don’t know that there’s anybody willing to do that,” said Spike Howard, owner of the Clifton Dos Hombres. “I think we’re (business owners) all in survival mode right now. I don’t have the interest or time to do it. I wouldn’t be wiling to run with it right now because I don’t think my customers should be paying a penny extra on anything right now.”

The failure of the plan to gain traction raises questions about what sort of capital investment the county will make in Clifton in the coming years. It also illustrates a philosophical divide that exists on the commission as it relates to that investment.

Commissioners Craig Meis and Janet Rowland, who will be forced out of office by term limits in January, say they have spent their eight years trying to find a way to rectify what they believe is a disproportionate expenditure of county dollars in Clifton and Fruitvale. Absent some sort of additional tax, they have vowed to cut capital spending in those neighborhoods.

“The county cannot simply subsidize it any longer with all our resources,” Meis said. “It’s the largest unincorporated area in the state. That requires dollars to maintain that public safety, that public infrastructure, and we have a county millage, and it’s a rural millage.”

Commissioner Steve Acquafresca, however, disagrees with the premise that Clifton and Fruitvale are receiving more than their fair share of resources and opposes property and sales taxes pitched by Meis and Rowland.

“If a community needs help, the best thing to do is help it, and the worst thing to do is to impose new taxes on it,” Acquafresca said.

County leaders have worked for years trying to solve the riddle of Clifton and Fruitvale. With roughly 19,000 residents, they make up the most densely populated area in the Grand Valley, even though they sit outside the boundaries of the city of Grand Junction.

A citizens committee in 2008 recommended the communities annex into Grand Junction, but a petition drive two years later failed to collect enough signatures. Meis and Rowland supported the creation of a tax district in 2009 that subjected all new development within certain areas of Clifton and Fruitvale to an additional property tax. But the board effectively gutted it last year after developers and real-estate agents expressed concern that homeowners within the same subdivision would pay different tax rates, and the tax could make it more difficult to develop and sell lots.

Meis and Rowland then turned to the sales tax idea, framing it as a way for businesses to control their own destiny. The proposed district’s boundaries could have encompassed both sides of I-70B from 31 1/2 Road to Interstate 70 and both sides of F Road between 32 and 33 roads. The county estimated a 1 percent tax could generate some $500,000 of revenue annually.

“Nobody was willing to carry the water for it,” said Starvin Arvin’s owner Jeff Leany, who was opposed to the tax. “It was just a grab to get more money in the coffers of Mesa County. People are just tired of it.”

Howard said he likes the sales tax idea and appreciates the improvements made in recent years. But he said any talk of an extra sales tax should be accompanied by a plan explaining how much money will be generated and how it will be spent. And it needs to come at a time when most business owners aren’t fighting to survive.

“In a lukewarm economy, I think you’re going to get a lukewarm enthusiasm for new taxes,” he said.

In the eyes of Meis and Rowland, that means after a 33 Road widening and improvement project is finished, they’ll press ahead with plans to trim spending on roads and other infrastructure projects in Clifton and Fruitvale. Rowland said the six-year capital plan the board approved last year significantly reduces spending in those communities and allocates more dollars to other areas of the county that have been sitting on the back burner.

Without that funding shift, Meis said, “There’s going to be a breaking point sometime, because the county only has so much funds. When the Fruitas and the other city partners of the county and the other citizens of the county start to revolt because of the amount of money going into that area (Clifton), it’s going to happen.”

Acquafresca, though, said the county prioritizes its road and bridge projects based on the condition of the roads and the safety of the public traveling on them, not on the area of the county in which they’re located.

“So, we’re obligated, in my view, to stay with that safety-prioritization process, whether it’s in Clifton, Fruita, the Redlands, wherever,” he said.

And unlike Meis and Rowland, Acquafresca contends Clifton residents are indeed paying their fair share of taxes, noting citizens remit taxes and fees to and receive services from special districts such as the Clifton Water, Sanitation and Fire Protection districts.

“Largely they’ve taken care of their own urban needs out there,” he said.


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