New city manager stresses importance of business climate
Phil Castle, The Business Times
When Rich Englehart started working for the City of Grand Junction 30 years ago, he never imaged he’d one day oversee the operations of the municipal government. He aspired to become parks and recreation director, not city manager.
Over the course of his career, Englehart’s ambitions broadened as he realized how quickly changes could be effected at a local level. And now that he’s been hired as Grand Junction city manager on a permanent basis, he’s said he’s looking forward to strengthening partnerships and achieving goals, including working with business owners and business groups in promoting a robust business climate.
Englehart said members of the Grand Junction City Council share his views about the relationship between business and city government given that sales and use taxes account for more than 60 percent of municipal revenues. “They’re engaged with that and understand the importance.”
Englehart takes over as city manager after serving six months as interim manager following the resignation in December of Laurie Kadrich. Before that, Englehart worked more than three years as deputy manager.
Between his first job out of college with the Grand Junction Parks and Recreation Department and his return to the city in March 2008, Englehart worked for 23 years in Delta. There, he held positions as city manager, assistant city manager, housing authority director and parks and recreation director.
A football and baseball player who studied leisure and recreation services at what’s now Colorado Mesa University, Englehart completed an internship with the Grand Junction Parks and Recreation Department and then went to work there after graduation. Later, while Englehart was working in Delta, the city manager at that time convinced Englehart to complete the coursework needed to earn a master’s of public administration degree, which he received from the University of Colorado.
Englehart said he became interested in city management in large part because of the opportunities to make a difference at a local level. “The ability to effect change in your community is much greater at that level.”
There was another reason, he added. “You get to be a part of something much bigger than yourself.”
Englehart said he’s still motivated for the same reasons in his latest role as Grand Junction city manager.
Englehart considers it his role to help council members make informed decisions, then work with the rest of the city management team and 650 city employees to carry out those decisions. “I do all I can do to support the elected officials.”
Englehart still draws from his experiences in athletic competition in emphasizing teamwork. “You can’t win singly. You work with others and try to partner up.”
That approach works especially well in this region given its tradition of collaboration, he added. “Western Colorado is known for partnerships and relationships.”
Business owners and managers play an important role in the process given the effects of city policies on the business climate and the effects of the business climate on city revenues, he said. To that end, the city strives not only to involve business owners in developing and implementing policies, but also promoting economic development. “Our role is to support our local businesses in the community.”
The city has streamlined its planning and permitting processes to offer a more business-friendly approach while still enforcing land use and development policies, Englehart said. “We need to continue to do that to not hinder, but also offer protections.”
In addition, the city continues to work with such organizations as the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, Grand Junction Economic Partnership and Business Incubator Center, he said. “We partner together to see what we can do.”
Englehart takes over as city manager on a permanent basis at a time when tax revenues have rebounded from a sharp decline.
According to reports for the first half of 2012, the city has collected a total of more than $24.6 million in sales and use taxes, outpacing the same span in 2011 by 3.8 percent. Sales tax collections have grown on a year-over-year basis since mid-2010. That follows what was in 2009 and the first half of 2008 the worse drop in tax revenues in 25 years.
Just as the city budget ratcheted down as revenues decreased, Englehart said he expects the budget to incrementally increase along with revenues to meet demands for city services.
While 2012 will be a “stabilization year” with no increase in spending, Englehart said he’s “cautiously optimistic” about continued growth in tax revenues. Meanwhile, the council has revisited a number of city services and programs cut during the downturn to determine if additional funding should be restored and how much. Public safety and street maintenance constitute high priorities, he said.
As for large capital projects, the new public safety building expected to soon open fulfills a long-standing need with new facilities for the fire and police departments and a state-of-the-art emergency dispatch center, Englehart said. Additional fire stations still are needed in other locations, though, including the areas near the airport, Canyon View Park and Peak park.
While the 29 Road overpass over the Union Pacific Railroad also has been completed, there are plans to eventually extend 29 Road north to a new interchange with Interstate Highway 70, he said, completing a beltway through the city. Renovations also have been proposed for Horizon Drive and North Avenue.
Maintenance is needed to address what have been identified as some problem areas in city parks, he added. That’s not to mention the proposed Las Colonias and Matchett parks.
On a long-term basis, the City of Grand Junction must remained prepared to deal with growth. Englehart doesn’t anticipate the kind of rapid growth that occurred during a boom in energy development in the region. But he does expect slower, more consistent, growth. “If we don’t expect growth, we’ve got our heads in the sand.”
In the meantime, Englehart said he’s grateful for the opportunity to work as city manager and complete a circle of sorts he never envisioned when he started his career 30 years ago. “I feel like I’ve come home.”