Public safety is the prerequisite for economic development
There are a number of things businesses look at when deciding whether or not to locate or expand in a particular community. Some of these factors are purely economic — availability of workforce, transportation infrastructure, proximity of raw materials, energy costs, tax rates, cost of living and so forth. Others are more abstract, but no less real – quality of schools, climate, recreational opportunities, nice parks, cultural opportunities—those kinds of things.
Some other factors are so obvious that they don’t even make the list above. That’s because without them nothing in the list above matters. The item on the top of that list is public safety.
Workforce, schools, neighborhoods, tax environment and infrastructure are all very important. But none of them matter a whit if the community being evaluated by a prospective developer or entrepreneur is considered unsafe.
A crime-ridden community will not attract or retain a quality workforce. Nobody wishes to settle down and raise a family in a neighborhood where you can’t safely let your kids play in the front yard or in what was once a beautiful park, now a meeting place for drug abusers. Driving over the best bridges and roads means very little when you or an employee runs a high risk of being killed by drunk or high drivers. The benefits of a competitive tax climate can be erased if savings need to go towards high-tech fences, locked gates, armed guards and other enhanced security systems, or for extravagant bonuses to try and entice workers to move to neighborhoods with little or no police protection.
To be sure, Mesa County does not yet resemble the worst neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Detroit, or Chicago. But there is no denying the facts that crime — including both violent and property crime — is on the rise in our community, and at a startling, and troubling, rate. Violent crime in unincorporated Mesa County is up 500 percent in just the past few years.
There is also no denying the fact that Mesa County’s exceptional law enforcement community is already spread way too thin, and constantly being asked to do more with less. We have fewer sheriff’s deputies per 1,000 citizens than any other county our size in the state, fewer even than much smaller counties surrounding us.
The District Attorney’s Office is faring no better. Not only are they, like the Sheriff’s Office, seriously undermanned and underfunded, especially as compared to other districts, but in the past few years they have filed 132 percent more felony cases while seeing their budget per felony case fall 25 percent. It’s a trend that just can’t continue.
There is very little we can do to promote the economy and entice businesses to set up shop in Mesa County if even the perception exists that we are not a safe place to live and work anymore. Economic decisions are human decisions. And they are made, first and foremost, on the assumption that the basic societal prerequisites are met. The first need of any society is order, and the prerequisite of a free society is the knowledge that society’s laws will be enforced. There is a reason that public safety is the first and most essential role of government. If these most basic needs are not met, then the details don’t matter.
That’s why the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, the Fruita Area Chamber of Commerce and the Palisade Chamber of Commerce are all supporting Issue 1A. Issue 1A will increase county sales taxes by only 37 cents on a $100 purchase, with all funds raised going directly to Mesa County public safety agencies. Staple items like groceries, gasoline, and prescription medications will not be taxed. The funds will be used to hire more deputies and DA staff to fight crime and prosecute criminals. Our law enforcement professionals will be able to put real effort into proactive policing and prosecution efforts focused on crime reduction and deterrence, not just reacting once crimes are committed.
Increased crime is not something we “just need to live with.” It is a problem that we must fix now. If we are serious about providing a place where business can thrive and grow, then we have to give our public safety agencies the resources they need to take back our streets.
We urge the citizens of Mesa County to Back the Badge and vote YES for public safety. Vote yes on Issue 1A.
Kristi Pollard, executive director, Grand Junction Economic Partnership
Diane Schwenke, president and CEO, Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce
Frank Ladd, executive director, Fruita Area Chamber of Commerce
Juliann Adams, executive director, Palisade Chamber of Commerce