Drainage district fees draw business outcry

Kelly Sloan
Kelly Sloan

Kelly Sloan, The Business Times

Business and property owners attending a meeting to discuss new fees assessed by the Grand Valley Drainage District expressed anger and concern.

They also suggested a change in district leadership could be in order.

The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce hosted the meeting to enable business owners to hear from district officials about fees that will be assessed beginning in 2016.

Tim Ryan, general manager of the district, said an additional $3 million is needed to handle stormwater and runoff from federal lands.

Residences will be charged $36 a year, accounting for 48 percent of new fee collections. The reminder of the fees will be borne by commercial property owners in Mesa County.

The district plans to assess an annual fee of $36 for every 2,500 square feet of impervious surface — including buildings and parking lots — and an impact fee of $500 for every 2,500 square feet of expansion.

The chamber and business owners have come out against a fee structure they argue is tilted heavily and unfairly towards business, could cost jobs and place an unreasonable burden on an already fragile economy.

Business owner Pat Tucker asked if the district had considered the effects of the new fees on business in developing the fee structure. Ryan said an ad hoc group studied the issue and looked at fee structures in other areas.

The answer did little to satisfy business owners, some of whom said the annual fee was more of an issue than the upfront cost.

Ron Arellano asked why the district didn’t consider a gradual approach to increasing fees, suggesting that it’s been known for years the district would require more resources. “Why can’t it be done in a slower, progressive manner?” Arellano asked.

Leaders of nonprofit organizations also attended the meeting and said their groups will be hit especially hard by the district fees.

A pastor of a local church suggested the district was “playing word games” when the fees are actually a tax and the state constitution requires voter approval of any tax increase.

He also said nonprofit groups would be hurt more by the fee increases. “We can’t raise our fees to cover this the way other businesses can. You are putting this on the backs of nonprofits. Where are we going to come up with the money to pay for this?”

Others at the meeting pointed out that businesses already pay a disproportional share of property taxes because of an amendment to the state constitution that requires that  55 percent of property tax come from commercial property while fixing the commercial property assessment rate at 29 percent.