Tax plan leaves out rural areas, Justman says
Rural Mesa County could bridle at diverting $500,000 from a sales-tax increase for law enforcement into Grand Junction coffers, Mesa County Commissioner John Justman told his companions on the commission Tuesday.
“I don’t know if I can sell a Christmas tree” to voters outside Grand Junction, Justman said after raising doubts about the prospects of a measure being crafted by Commissioner Scott McInnis, Sheriff Matt Lewis and District Attorney Dan Rubinstein.
As it’s been presented so far, the measure would call for a 0.37 percent public-safety sales tax to be devoted mostly to the sheriff and to prosecutors. The sheriff and DA would split just more than $6 million from the $7.1 million the tax is projected to generate.
In a bow to the needs of other law enforcement and emergency agencies, the tax also would send money to 14 other agencies, including Grand Junction, which operates the emergency dispatch center used by all of the agencies.
One of those agencies, the Lower Valley Fire Department, hadn’t been approached about whether it should be included, Justman said. Fire Chief Frank Cavaliere told him that he hadn’t been approached by the sheriff, Justman told the commissioners during a Tuesday afternoon session in which commissioners and top county staff discussed various issues facing the county.
Cavaliere said later that he was aware of the proposal from a meeting of Mesa County fire chiefs this spring in which it was discussed and that he couldn’t comment further until discussing it with the Lower Valley Fire Protection District board. Lewis met with fire chiefs, including Cavaliere, on April 27, he said.
A quarter-percent sales tax, the proceeds of which would go only to the sheriff and district attorney, would stand a better chance than the proposal that has been unveiled, Justman said. He acknowledged that a 0.25 percent sales tax would not raise the same amount of money for those two agencies as the 0.37 percent tax would.
Smaller agencies weren’t asked whether they would want the money, Justman said.
“It’s (BS) that they weren’t asked,” he said.
All the agencies had been approached and were supportive, McInnis said, adding that it was incorrect to suggest otherwise.
Under the proposed division of revenues, the Lower Valley Fire Department would get 0.83 percent of the proceeds, or $59,583, reflecting the agency’s share of dispatch-center calls.
McInnis has said he, Lewis and Rubinstein have been working to present a question that the board can place on the November ballot. Without it, the county will have to take drastic measures, McInnis said, at one point telling Justman that without the tax measure, “You get to make the motion in January to do layoffs” of county employees.
It might be advisable to draft two budgets — one with the proposed tax increase and one without — to illustrate the gravity of the county’s position without it, McInnis said.
County budgeting officials paint a dark picture of the 2017 budget, anticipating a significant bite into reserves.
Justman said he’s more optimistic, noting that 2016 ended in the black, despite dire predictions to the contrary.