Chamber wise to file suit over drainage fee

The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce isn’t shy about weighing in on how local government decisions affect its members or the business environment in general.

But it’s never mounted a legal challenge of such decisions before filing suit last week seeking a preliminary injunction to halt the collection of a new fee imposed by the Grand Valley Drainage District.

The chamber believes the fee is an unauthorized tax. It had to sue to get a ruling on whether it’s right. But that doesn’t mean chamber officials don’t support the idea that the Grand Valley needs to invest in infrastructure to deal with storm water runoff.

Members of the chamber board met with the Sentinel’s editorial board Monday to explain why they took action. The fee puts an unfair burden on business owners who already are taxed through a mill levy to fund the Grand Valley Drainage District’s operations. Moreover, the Grand Valley Drainage District doesn’t encompass the entire valley, meaning some property owners are paying a fee on top of taxes, while others pay nothing.

“The responsible thing is to get legal clarity,” said Jeff Hurd, a Grand Junction attorney who serves on the chamber board.

That clarity will benefit not just business owners, but anybody who owns property in the district. Many residents with no ties to the chamber have asked CEO Diane Schwenke to intervene. The chamber filed suit, which is rare, if not unprecedented.

Regardless of outcome in the court, we share the chamber’s hope that this will force the drainage district, Mesa County and the 5-2-1 Drainage Authority back to the table for a transparent discussion about an equitable, valley-wide solution, which may include tiers and caps on what businesses pay and more focus on applying for federal grants.

Whether that happens, the outcome of the suit will at least put lingering questions to bed once and for all.

The chamber followed Colorado Mesa University’s lead on this issue. CMU contracted with legal counsel to form a preliminary argument. The chamber took the ball and ran with it and Mesa County commissioners voted to join in seeking court action.

The chamber is soliciting financial help with legal costs. If it can’t find donors willing to cover the chamber’s half of the cost of the suit, the money “will come out of Chamber reserves — it’s just that important,” Schwenke said.

The chamber has stepped outside of its traditional role of business advocacy to push for something that not only benefits its members, but the entire valley. The friction between the drainage district, the county and the 5-2-1 Drainage Authority spans years of fruitless negotiations. We think the chamber was wise to file suit. Perhaps this move will knock those negotiations off high center.


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