Once upon a time (40 years ago to be specific) Mesa County voters approved a 2% sales tax to fund capital projects.
The ballot language didn’t mention specifics, but the campaign to persuade voters said proceeds from the tax could fund four recreation centers around the county and a community hall in Mesa.
It was a heady time. Grand Junction looked to be the epicenter of a shale-oil revolution and civic leaders had a growth mindset. But Black Sunday in 1982 put the region in an economic tailspin. Revenue from the sales tax didn’t come anywhere close to original projections and what money did come in went to more pressing needs.
The community hall in Mesa did get built in the mid-1980s. So did a small community hall in Gateway. Mesa County Commissioner Scott McInnis isn’t even sure how Clifton Hall came into existence, but his desire for a better community center in Clifton unearthed the ancient history of the sales tax — and the promises made to voters, but not kept.
Six years ago, McInnis attended a meeting at Clifton Hall. He said he was embarrassed by the facility. The people of Clifton deserve better, he thought. Why not sell it and find a better location for a more expansive gathering place? That turned out to be a challenge because of how the hall’s ownership was structured in a trust (and why McInnis suspects it was donated to the county). But getting the title work ironed out led to a deeper examination of community halls in the county — and the discovery of an unmet obligation lost to the mists of time.
Mesa County is finally in a financial position to make good on that original promise and commissioners announced Tuesday their plan to spend up to $8 million to build four new community halls in Clifton, De Beque, Whitewater and Loma/Mack.
The proposal is to create something similar to what the town of Mesa has. That facility has meeting space, a commercial kitchen and a dining hall that can double as a basketball court. It also has a playground, a community garden, a health clinic and a small library. Mesa residents celebrate a community Thanksgiving at their community center, along with a Color Sunday celebration in the fall.
Each community will be able to shape its hall through a planning process that will help define priorities. Clifton looks to be the biggest on a campus-like setting that may include more park-like amenities and even some county services.
McInnis is understandably excited about the potential these halls offer. This is his baby, after all. But, there are some challenges. The county is living up to the spirit of the original proposition, but not the details. Proposed “rec centers” on the Redlands and Orchard Mesa and in Palisade and Clifton have become community halls in the aformentioned communities.
That’s fine as far as we’re concerned. A lot has changed in 40 years. But if the county is tweaking the original plan, it’s important to ask the people of these communities if they want a community hall — or something else. Their needs may have changed, too.
County Administrator Pete Baier said if communities have something else in mind, the county may be able to accommodate them — though residents might have to do some fundraising if their proposal is more expensive than what the county has budgeted.
It’s good that the county is showing some flexibility. But we would argue that community halls are the way to go. So many good things can happen there. The more interaction we can facilitate between neighbors, the better. The antidote to growing national division is forging productive relationships at the community level.