With Grand Junction residents set to consider a 0.39 percent sales tax increase to fund the construction of a community center, several Grand Junction City Council members on Wednesday balked at the idea of asking voters to also consider a 1.25 percent sales tax increase, and elimination of the city's mill levy, to fund needed improvements for police, fire and roads.
Instead, the council will likely pursue separate ballot questions in the upcoming April election — a 0.5 sales tax increase to fund needed resources at both the police and fire departments, and a 0.25 sales tax increase to expand area roadways.
"I would like to get to a point where we're talking about pushing the (0.5 percent increase for first responders) and the (0.25 percent increase for roads) … without considering the property tax piece. I think we leave that one alone," Councilor Chris Kennedy advised. "I think it's a much better way to talk about all of these measures."
"I think it's confusing to throw that into a question, when you're looking at, do we need more fire (investment) and do we need roadway expansion," Councilor Phyllis Norris said about including the elimination of the city's mill levy.
"As far as the first responder piece, we don't even have a traffic team out there. We don't have any of these things because we can't afford it," she said.
"Statistics will drive this, I think, and should carry the day," Councilor Duke Wortmann said. "I'm going to be very much in support of it, and I'll be very vocal and speaking wherever I need to speak for it. It's about time."
Prior to discussion of the proposed public safety and infrastructure tax increase, councilors unanimously agreed to authorize a question on the upcoming April municipal ballot asking voters to approve a 0.39 sales and use tax rate increase to fund the construction of a community center at Matchett Park, develop part of the parkland around the center and renovate the aging pool facilities on Orchard Mesa.
Also following a unanimous vote Wednesday, voters additionally will consider a question to allow the city to sell off what's known as the Burkey Park property at 2982 and 2980 Patterson Road. About 17 acres of that undeveloped park property was donated to the city by the Burkey family in the late 1960s. While the Burkeys had envisioned park space for the donated land, money from the sale of the property should voters approve the measure would be dedicated to the development and improvement of Matchett Park.
The city's current sales tax rate is 2.75 percent, and there is no tax on gasoline, most grocery items, or medicine. General municipal government services, including police and fire operations, are funded by 2 percent of that; 0.75 percent is dedicated to city capital projects and economic development, according to city information.
Grand Junction residents end up paying just 22 percent of total city sales taxes, the city says, with Mesa County households outside of the city, businesses and visitors paying the lion's share, or 78 percent combined.
The Mesa County sales tax rate is 2 percent, and the city receives a portion of that revenue. The county also has a 0.37 percent public safety tax, approved by voters in November 2017. With the addition of the 2.9 percent state sales tax, the current combined sales tax in Grand Junction is 8.02 percent.
While the city receives about $500,000 annually from the county public safety tax, that money is used to partly fund operations at the Grand Junction Regional Communication Center, which falls under the umbrella of the Grand Junction Police Department. The money is a far cry from what's needed to bring the police department up to speed, according to city officials.
To start, the department is understaffed by an estimated 18 sworn officers, and an analysis in November showed that current officers were operating with just 10 percent of their daily shift available for proactive police activities, well below the 37 percent industry recommendation. There's an immediate need for 13 new civilian positions as well, according to police.
The Grand Junction Fire Department needs $6.3 million annually to staff three new fire stations and add three new positions.
In reality, the three additional stations were identified as "immediate needs" in 2008 following a third-party study. Since 2008, the city has grown by about 6,500 people, while total responses increased by 71 percent, according to city information.
Both fire and police said citizens would be looking at a reduction in services if they don't get the additional resources they need. For fire, that means already tardy response times are likely to remain so. For police, that might mean more online reporting of crimes, and a reduction in the activity of the city's Street Crimes Unit, among other impacts.
The city has also identified an estimated $184 million in area roadway expansion projects that revenues from the tax increase might fund. Key projects identified include a new interchange at Interstate 70 and 29 Road, widening 24 Road, creating an F 1/2 Road Parkway, widening 25 Road, and building an interchange where Riverside Parkway intersects 24 Road.
Councilors have until Feb. 1 to approve a taxing measure for the April municipal ballot, according to City Attorney John Shaver. Councilors on Wednesday directed city staff to pave the way for the possible dual tax increases, and tentatively set Jan. 28 as a date for a public meeting about the issue.