Modern era forces city, county to consider appropriate roles
While the Sentinel’s opinion that the county should cover half of the operational costs for the Orchard Mesa pool may sound reasonable or even fair, it’s not about what’s fair, it’s about the legitimate role of government, in particular the legitimate role of counties compared to municipalities.
Counties weren’t established to provide parks and recreation services; that’s the role of municipalities. Counties are an arm of the state, and they are intended to provide a rural level of services such as farm-to-market roads, not an urban level of service such as curb, gutter, sidewalks and street lights. Yes, over the years previous boards have allowed the county to take on additional roles, but it doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do in 2013.
Although the original agreement for the pool doesn’t have an exit clause (and why the county attorney at the time allowed the county to get into such an agreement in the first place is beyond me and for a different column), it deserves a civil and rational discussion — a discussion that must take into consideration all the city/county partnerships.
I have great respect for the current members of the Grand Junction City Council and the new members of the Board of County Commissioners. I know their decision will be based on what they believe is right for the community in 2013, and I respect that it will not be an easy decision.
The position that the county should split the cost with the city simply because it can afford it also overlooks the legitimate role of the county. While $88,000 may not seem like much, the money has to come from somewhere. An extra $88,000 could cover the salaries of almost two sheriff’s deputies, or three child protection caseworkers or four animal control workers. Pools are nice, but when compared to other responsibilities, it ranks below other county priorities.
Finally, taking the position that the operating costs for the Orchard Mesa pool should be split equally between the city and county overlooks many other partnerships between the two jurisdictions. The jail is entirely funded by the county, and yet it houses Grand Junction Police Department inmates, even for municipal charges, at no cost to the city. The county’s portion of funding for Grand Valley Transit is greater than funding from Grand Junction, Fruita and Palisade combined. The county also provides more than $300,000 annually to Colorado West Mental Health for detox services and mental health holds, even though the majority of individuals using those services are brought there from within the city limits.
This isn’t to imply that the city doesn’t support other services that benefit the county. On the contrary, the city and county have a long history of partnerships. In the midst of our meth epidemic, it was the city that was first able to fund a street crimes unit focused on tracking down drug dealers, and it willingly allowed the unit to work cases outside the city limits, until the county was able to provide funding for the sheriff to establish a street crimes unit for the county. The county then established the meth treatment center and made it available to city and county residents. The city also pays the county to provide animal services and building inspections to their residents, which allows for seamless services to residents and eliminates duplication.
I can’t possibly list all the city/county partnerships in this space. There are many examples and yet few in which the costs are split equally. Rather, the costs are determined based on what makes sense — and what the legitimate roles are for the city and the county.
Janet Rowland is the founder and CEO of Local Government Solutions in Grand Junction. She served as a Mesa County commissioner for eight years.