The city’s Britney Spears moment

I think we’re having a Britney Spears moment. You may remember when Britney was going through her troubled phase shaving her head and beating car doors with an umbrella — some comedians making their living joking about her behavior — decided to stop. That was because it wasn’t funny anymore, something was really wrong.

That’s the way it’s become with the city of Grand Junction, it’s easy to make jokes about an entity with wildly divergent decisions occurring almost weekly- anticipating job cuts or furloughs and with almost the same breath talking about hiring a “homeless champion.”

Something’s genuinely wrong and as tempting as it is to continue to just lampoon the situation it’s become more than a little dire. Personally, due to a mild but endearing personality disorder, I can’t stop making fun of the phenomena but I do see it as an important topic in need of intervention.

Let’s just take a recent example of one of the more startling symptoms of organ failure in the body politic.

On Sept. 28, The Daily Sentinel carried a story, enlarging on prior articles, headlined “City seeking a savior for convention center”

The story centered around the intention of the city to sell or lease the Two Rivers Convention Center in downtown Grand Junction, to a private party for the complex reason that it could not afford to continue losing vast amounts of money on the operation.

The facility was described as underutilized, outdated and in need of repairs, amounting to millions of dollars.

The city admitted the facility had been consistently losing money with this year’s loss being $500,000. I would have to look at prior columns but my recollection is that its best year in recent history was a loss of $70,000.

There was a projection mentioned of a loss in the next fiscal year of about $430,000 but I’ve absolutely no confidence in that figure as I cannot remember a single revenue forecast or loss estimate, projected more than two weeks into the future by that body which has been accurate.

The sales pitch, delivered by the newly minted city manager, was that the property was valued somewhere between $5 million and $12 million and needed between $7.5 million and $15.5 million worth of upgrades.

That’s quite an attractive item for purchase with a minimum outlay of $12.5 million for property that lost $500,000 in one year.

This is to say nothing of the fact that a private purchaser would no longer have the benefit of being a governmental entity and would have to pay taxes on revenue and the property once they acquired it, thereby raising the cost of ownership even more than the prior operator.

If the purpose of the convention center property was to lose some money or break even and generate significant revenue for surrounding businesses, which would recoup that loss in tax revenue and grow commerce in the area, that would be a good argument. But it fails here.

Simplistically, the city of Grand Junction collects 2.75 percent sales tax on every dollar generated by private business — for the city to make up a $500,000 deficit requires a spinoff benefit of $18 million in taxable revenue for surrounding businesses.

And then there’s the value estimate. I don’t recall seeing a commercial appraisal which gauges a property in a range that varies 240 percent in value, coupled with a repair estimate that varies 204 percent in cost.

So now that we’ve cursed the darkness, where’s the light? It notably lies in the way we discussed this issue by identifying “the city” as a designer of these problems.

No person seems to be answerable for a situation, there is a vague notion of shared responsibility with the largely volunteer City Council but it has no control over any departments, just broad strokes on budget and hires two people — a city manager and city attorney.

Many times council seats struggle for candidates and some are repeatedly unopposed. The real decision-maker, the city manager, is very well paid and insulated from the public.

This was a decent idea when the city was one-tenth its size, but now we need individual accountability. We need to substitute a contracted city manager for an independently elected mayor.

It’s time to change the charter. The April election is a good target. I don’t think I’m the only one who now feels that way.

Rick Wagner is a Grand Junction attorney who maintains a political blog, The War on Wrong. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). com.


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