Sales tax discussed for Clifton

Revenue would fundcapital improvements

At a time when some of his customers are trimming discretionary spending such as eating out, Clifton Dos Hombres owner Spike Howard isn’t thrilled with the idea of an additional sales tax. But his belief that commercial areas at the east end of the Grand Valley would benefit from public infrastructure improvements may outweigh concerns that the tax will chase off diners.

Starvin Arvin’s owner Jeff Leany has no such internal tug-of-war. He’s adamantly opposed to any new tax.

That’s the kind of feedback Mesa County commissioners want to hear from the hundreds of people who own property and operate businesses in the area surrounding the Interstate 70 Business Loop and 32 Road and will decide whether they want to tax themselves in order to pay for capital projects.

The board is scheduled to hold its first meeting with Clifton and Fruitvale land and business owners on Wednesday, the first of four such meetings over the next three weeks that will go a long way in determining whether talk of instituting a 1 percent sales tax becomes anything more than that.

“The purpose is to help business owners understand the concept of some type of business district out there,” county spokeswoman Jessica Peterson said. “If they’re not interested, then that’s kind of the end of it.”

Commissioners have proposed the idea of a sales tax-funded public improvement district as a way to pay for public works and capital projects in the commercial areas of Clifton and Fruitvale. The board has completed a number of projects in recent years in those communities but appears intent on scaling back expenditures in the future, noting the amount of money spent in Clifton and Fruitvale is disproportionate to the population in those areas.

Commissioner Janet Rowland said the public improvement district would be similar to the Horizon Drive Business Improvement District instituted years ago and allows businesses to determine their own destiny.

“If the area looks run down or unsafe or is difficult to access, it can negatively impact their businesses,” she said. “And since the county is cutting back in public works and capital expenditures in this area to be more equitable and in line with the percentage of the overall county population, it is possible the area could start to become run down.”

A public improvement district subsidized with a sales tax could prevent that from happening, she said.

County officials have preliminarily proposed a district whose boundaries would encompass both sides of I-70B from 31 1/2 Road to Interstate 70 and both sides of F Road from between 32 and 33 roads. There could be as many as between 200 and 300 property and business owners within those boundaries, although the boundaries likely will change based on those owners who support the tax, Peterson said. The county has estimated a 1 percent tax could generate some $500,000 of revenue annually.

County leaders emphasize that property and business owners would be the ones to decide whether to form the district and that the idea will be scrapped if most of them aren’t interested.

Howard said he tentatively backs the additional sales tax.

“I’m not particularly in favor of any taxes right now, but the other piece of it is we do need the improvements out there,” he said.

Howard said he doesn’t think the 1 percent tax, which would boost the tax on his customers’ bills from 4.9 percent to 5.9 percent, will deter customers altogether. But it could mean those who currently dine at Dos Hombres once a week may come in just once a month, he said.

He said he may prefer to wait to institute the sales tax until the economy has rebounded.

If any tax must be implemented, sales tax is the best, according to Leany. But he’s not impressed by the projects that have been completed to date and isn’t convinced more work will help.

“People are just sick and tired of the taxes,” he said.

The county hasn’t settled yet on the steps that will follow the four meetings with business and property owners. Should that group of people show support for a tax, business and property owners would have to file a petition to create the district, then vote on the tax. The earliest a measure could show up on the ballot is November 2012.


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