Grand Junction council candidates talk issues

Phil Castle
Phil Castle

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Six candidates for the Grand Junction City Council agreed more than they disagreed in answering questions about a range of issues posed during a chamber of commerce forum.

The candidates voiced support to varying degrees for continued financial support for Colorado Mesa University, revitalization along North Avenue and a preference for the private sector over government in providing services whenever possible. Public safety and infrastructure rank among their top priorities.

A total of seven candidates are running for four seats on the council. In District A, Phyllis Norris seeks
re-election in a race against Jesse Daniels. In District D, Martin Chazin, seeks re-election in a campaign against Duke Wortman. The race for an at-large seat on the council pits incumbent Rick Taggart against Lincoln Pierce. Duncan McArthur is unopposed in his bid for re-election in District E.

The ballot also features two measures. The first seeks voter approval for a quarter percent increase in city sales tax to repay financing on a new events center downtown and rennovate the nearby convention center. The second seeks approval to use tax revenues earmarked to pay off the Riverside Parkway for street maintenance.

Ballots must be returned April 4.

Six candidates participated in the forum hosted by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce. Pierce was the lone exception.

Asked whether or not they support continued city financial support of CMU, some of the candidates were unequivacol, although they cited ties to the university.

Chazen, who said he’s both attended and taught courses at Western Colorado Community College, a part of CMU, said the university not only constitutes an important economic driver, but also supplies the graduates local businesses need to fill positions.

Taggart, a former business executive who teaches courses at CMU, said he considers the support an investment that pays a return given the economic effects of the university. “Everything we’ve put into tht univerity has come back many fold.”

Wortman, who described himself as “proud Maverick,” also cited the economic benefits of CMU. “Without it, we could be a poorer place to live in.”

Norris agreed CMU provides economic benefits, but said other needs have to be considered as well, among them hiring more police officers and repairing streets.

Daniels said CMU could work even more closely with the community in offering curriculums and programs that meet the needs of the local labor market.

The candidates also said they support efforts to revitalize the North Avenue corridor, adding to renovations that already have occurred. Grants have covered most of the work so far, and additional grants could be needed to continue work, several candidates said.

Norris said a lot of work has focused on entrances to Grand Junction on Horizon Drive and U.S. Highway 50, but that resources alao have been devoted to North Avenue, including matching grants for storefront renovations.

Daniels said more creative efforts will be required to bring back businesses to vacant big box stores along North Avenue.

Wortman said he’d like to remove what he said he wished one eye store along North Avenue could be removed — the former Far East Restaurant.

Asked about how they decide whether the city should address an issue as opposed to the private sector, the candidates agreed the private sector should provide services if it can do so more efficiently.

McArthur said the private sector should “do as much as it can when it can.”

Taggart and Wortman said the issue raises the question of whether or not the city should collect trash or manage golf courses. “When private enterprises can do it, we need to let them do it,” Taggart said.

Norris said government’s primary job is to ensure public safety and maintain infrastructure. But it’s also a city role to maintain and develop parks, she said, because the private sector won’t.

Daniels said there could be opportuniies to develop more partnerships between the public and private sectors.

The candidates also were asked about their positions on a movement to seek increased funding not only for an events center, but also public safety, schools and a recreation center.

“I’m in full support,” Daniels said, adding that such a movement is needed to move Grand Junction forward.

Chazen said public safety comes first and good schools are essential, although the city council has no role in governing schools.

Taggart said he considers the measure for the events center a separate issue because he believes the center will actually generate revenue in bringing more people to Grand Junction. By one estimate, the center would attract 80,000 new visitors while adding $30 million in retail sales revenues.

Wortman said, “my heart will be in education,” although he also called for the development of  Matchett and Burkey parks.

Chazen and McArthur said they don’t support a city role in building a rec center because existing health clubs already provides many of the same amenities.