The wrong question
First things first: We applaud the recent decision of the Grand Junction City Council to absorb $110,000 in development fees for the latest homeless veterans housing project being built by Grand Valley Catholic Outreach.
The decision wasn’t without controversy, however. Two board members opposed a motion to waive the fees. After the vote, Councilor Duncan McArthur took time to explain his opposition, raising some legitimate concerns along the way.
The council’s case-by-case review of development fees puts members in an awkward position. How could the board say yes to one group and no to another, McArthur asked.
It’s true that the City Council cannot waive development fees for every construction project that comes down the pike. But the council keeps looking at homeless housing as an economic development issue. Council members have discussed outlining a series of criteria to determine what projects meet their definition of economic development to better decide when to waive fees.
Technically, any building project could be considered economic development because it puts construction companies to work. But traditionally, economic development has consisted of offering incentives to entice employers to set up shop. The sales tax revenue and wages paid to employees are calculated using a multiplier effect to gauge the return on investment.
You can’t really do that with a homeless housing project, although McArthur conceded that providing shelter reduces some government-assistance costs.
But the bigger takeaway is that the city’s development fees are a paltry sum compared to the millions that individual donors and charitable foundations are willing to put into the project. And the city’s support in the form of waiving fees is an important component of those fundraising efforts.
The least the city can do is support the good intentions of those attempting to make a difference by waiving fees. But it should go a step further and formally adopt a policy that homeless projects will be exempt from development fees. There aren’t enough of them to make or break the city budget in any given year. These projects help those in need and contribute to the city’s goal of becoming the most livable city in the West.
Rather than casting the homeless quandry as an economic development question, the city, as part of its long-term planning process, should be asking what part of its budget should be carved out for these types of projects in the future.