Business groups face funding changes under county budget

Kelly Sloan, The Business Times

Financial support for two economic development efforts could shrink under proposed cuts in the Mesa County budget for 2014.

The Grand Junction Economic Partnership and Business Incubator Center both could experience cuts under a budget that calls for a 5.2 percent overall reduction in spending that anticipates reduced sales and property tax revenues next year.

Nothing is yet final, however, said Mesa County Commissioner Rose Pugliese. “This is just the administrator’s proposed budget. The commission will now debate over the coming weeks how to appropriate the county’s money.”

A vote on a final budget is scheduled for Dec. 9. Before then, the three county commissioners expect to conduct a series of meetings. Pugliese said she plans town hall meetings not only in Grand Junction, but also Clifton, DeBeque, Fruita and Palisade to present the proposed budget and gather comments.

Moreover, business and job growth remain priorities under a new strategic plan developed to guide county government, she added.

Funding for GJEP — a private, nonprofit group that promotes job creation through business attraction and expansion — isn’t eliminated under the proposed budget, Pugliese said. “We proposed to reallocated the $25,000 from GJEP’s operations to an incentive fund,” she said. “This fund would be there so that if existing businesses needed some support from the county in terms of, for example, infrastructure improvements, the fund would be there for that purpose.”

But the commissioners remains open to suggestions, she added. “Some in the business community have said that they would prefer that the money go to operations, and we are open to that thought.”

Kelly Flenniken, executive director of GJEP, said it would be inappropriate to comment on possible changes in funding while budget negotiations are in process.

Meanwhile, the Business Incubator Center in Grand Junction faces a  5 percent across-the-board cut to its budget — a reduction of about $10,000.

The Grand Junction center offers a wide range of services to new and existing businesses, including free and low-cost counseling and classes, low-cost space with shared services and financing through a loan fund. The center recently opened a satellite office in Fruita as part of efforts to offer services to a larger geographic area of Western Colorado.

Jon Maraschin, executive director of the center, said any budget cut is painful,  but he’s heartened economic development remains in the budget and part of the county’s strategic plan.

“We understand that the county is facing some tough times, and it is hard to balance public safety, economic development and infrastructure,” Maraschin said. “We are just happy to still be included in Mesa County’s budget, and we will find a way to work through it.”