Election decisions to affect businesses

Grand Junction voters will soon decide whether or not to ban medical marijuana businesses in the city.

Voter also will determine whether or not to grant city franchise agreements with two utility companies. And in an area of downtown, residents and business and property owners there will decide whether or not to allow the Downtown Development Authority to continue to borrow money to finance projects.

In addition to determining who fills three seats on the Grand Junction City Council, the municipal election now under way will resolve three measures on the ballot.

A total of nearly 24,000 ballots were mailed to voters in the city limits. As of press deadline on March 21, 3,601 mail ballots had been accepted, a turnout so far of about 15 percent.

Ballots must be returned by 7 p.m. April 5, either by mail or dropped in ballot boxes at the city clerk’s office in Grand Junction City Hall, the elections office in the Mesa County Courthouse or the county clerk’s office in the Mesa Mall.

Grand Junction City Clerk Stephanie Tuin said about 30 percent of voters participated in the last regular municipal election in 2009.

Measure A on the ballot asks voters whether or not the municipal code should be changed to prohibit the operation of medical marijuana businesses in the city. A vote for the ordinance is a vote for the ban.

The Grand Junction City Council voted 6-1 in October to close down dispensaries and other medical marijuana businesses. But dispensary supporters successfully petitioned to put the issue before city voters.

Voters passed a measure on the November general election ballot imposing a similar ban in unincorporated areas of Mesa County.

A group campaigning against Measure A argues the ordinance won’t ban the use of medical marijuana approved by Colorado voters in 2000. Rather, the ban would curtail the ability of the city to regulate medical marijuana sales and to tax revenue from those sales. In effect, the ban would put illegal drug dealers back in business, the group contends.

A group campaigning in favor of Measure A argues, however, that dispensaries have led to increased illegal marijuana use among teen-agers. And while marijuana businesses have increased tax revenues in Colorado, costs associated with regulation and enforcement have been greater.

Measure B asks voters whether or not the city should grant franchises to Xcel Energy and Grand Valley Power to distribute electricity and natural gas and install and maintain utilities.

Fred Eggleston, area manager of Xcel Energy, said the measure extends franchise agreements set to expire in 2012 for another 20 years.

Under the new agreements, the city will receive a franchise fee of 3 percent of gross revenues, a charge that’s passed on to utility customers. In addition, though, Xcel will continue to set aside 1 percent of revenues in a fund that helps pay to relocate overhead power lines under ground.

The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce has come out in support of Measure B.

A third measure, Measure C, appears on separate ballots sent to 730 voters within the boundaries of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA). Eligible voters include not only residents of the area, but also property owners and business owners who lease property there.

The measure asks voters whether or not to extend the ability of the DDA to issue bonds to finance projects and pay off those bonds through revenues from property and sales taxes levied within the DDA boundaries.

Peggy Page, owner of Page-Parsons Jewelers and chairwoman of the DDA board of directors, said approval of the measure is needed to continue the role of the DDA to finance projects that help maintain a viable business district downtown.

Page said the financing mechanism has helped fund the Art on the Corner program; downtown parking garage; grants for new business facades; and renovations along Colorado, Main and Seventh streets.

Measure C would allow the DDA to issue bonds for a total of up to $65 million over the next 20 years — an average of $3.25 million a year. The measure doesn’t raise taxes, however, Page said.

Page said the DDA hasn’t yet set its priorities for the next 20 years, but possible projects could include additional signs directing people downtown, more grants for facades and perhaps another parking garage.

The DDA also is working with a group on additional renovations at the Avalon Theater downtown and would provide up to $3 million in matching funding if the group is successful in raising $9 million for the project, Page said.