Point/Counterpoint: Mesa County Commissioners and the Grand Valley Drainage District

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From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

POINT: Change needed to deal with storm water in county

By Mesa County Commissioners

Mesa County has received multiple calls and letters from constituents about the bills they’ve received from the Grand Valley Drainage District.

The Mesa County Commissioners want to be clear: Mesa County does not have authority over the Drainage District. It stands alone as a separate governmental entity.

That said, we have been attempting to work with the Drainage District for years to create a Greater Grand Valley Drainage Organization. We have the support of the 5-2-1 Drainage Authority, which includes the City of Grand Junction, the City of Fruita and the Town of Palisade, to move in that direction. As pointed out in a previous letter to the editor, the Drainage District was identified as a possible solution in 2003. However, the 5-2-1 Drainage Authority was pursued at that time due to the limits of the Drainage District boundaries. It was identified in 2003 that we need a valley-wide solution. Our most recent efforts started again in February 2015.

Unfortunately, our attempts have failed. The Drainage District is not willing to discuss amending its governance or boundaries to create one greater Grand Valley Drainage Organization. It’s truly a shame.

If a Greater Grand Valley Drainage Organization was ever to be formed, its board would be tasked with assessing the needs of the greater Grand Valley and then determining the appropriate storm water fees. Raising fees now is putting the cart before the horse.

That doesn’t mean we aren’t aware of the significant storm water challenges we face in the Grand Valley. It simply means we do not support the recent actions of the Drainage District. The district has ignored feedback from stakeholders, who had asked for a re-evaluation of the potential impact on businesses (that already pay a majority of the Drainage District’s mill levy). The district also ignored requests from local government partners to re-evaluate its governance structure.

A bit more history we want our constituents to know: The Grand Valley Drainage District is a separate governmental entity formed by the Colorado State Legislature pursuant to CRS § 37-31-100, et seq. Only the three-member “elected” board has control over the district’s operations. Yet, the district has not held an election for a number of years due to lack of public interest and uncontested positions. Essentially, this has led to a self-appointed board. The only other oversight of the district lies with the Colorado Legislature and our local representatives, Sen. Ray Scott and Reps. Yeulin Willett and Dan Thurlow.

It’s disheartening to us. We have a solution sitting right in front of us. Let’s combine the operational experience of the Drainage District, expand the district boundaries to include the entire Grand Valley, and operate the Drainage District under a fair governance system.

The rate-payers deserve a voice at the table.

Sincerely,
Commissioners Rose Pugliese, 
Scott McInnis and John Justman

COUNTERPOINT: Only one entity is doing something about the problem

By the Grand Valley Drainage District

For 13 years the five appointed representatives to the 5-2-1 Drainage Authority have had the power and authority to address Grand Valley-wide drainage and storm water issues.

There has not been, nor is there now, any question as to the importance of the issue, the need to take productive action toward mitigating the problems, and the need for additional revenue to take such actions. For 13 years various interests have resisted plans that would make progress toward these objectives a reality. For 13 years nothing but talk has been created. It is interesting, and sadly ironic, to note that this dysfunctional and counterproductive 5-2-1 governance model is exactly the one being proposed by certain parties to replace the current legislatively-adopted governance of the Grand Valley Drainage District (GVDD).

And during all this time, the expectation that the GVDD would continue to accept new and expanded responsibilities, obligations, and liabilities to deal with an urbanizing area continued to be taken for granted. The GVDD board realized that this approach to using the system we own, operate, and are financially responsible for was not sustainable. To continue its current operations, in and out of the growing urbanized area, and to accommodate the growing demand for a 21st century storm water system that would promote and sustain continued residential and commercial development, GVDD must make real progress toward addressing the drainage and storm issues within its boundaries.

If the 5-2-1 is not ready to assume responsibility for the larger valley-wide drainage and storm water obligation, the GVDD certainly understands. The creation of drainage and storm water systems on the Redlands and Orchard Mesa is going to be a complicated and very expensive undertaking. It will be a much different prospect than expanding and improving the GVDD conveyance system that exists on the north side of the river.

In 2013 the GVDD, under the legal authorities of Taxypayer Bill of Rights passed in 1992, created a Storm Water Enterprise to create a means by which to address the growing storm water and flooding concerns of an urbanizing area and to implement a fee to create revenue to begin that process. This TABOR enterprise mechanism has been used extensively and legally tested in Colorado. The bills that GVDD property owners have recently received are a result of these decisions on the part of the GVDD board in accordance with TABOR rules.

After listening to considerable public comment the GVDD board has adopted a fee structure that attempts to address the interests of existing business and new development, but at the same time the board must advocate for and protect the needs and concerns of the thousands of individual residents of the GVDD. Most often they are the ones in the GVDD office asking why something cannot be done to protect their lives and their properties. We know that any fee structure will be considered less than perfect by some of those affected and we take seriously the concerns that have been brought to our attention.

We thank the thousands of businesses and individuals who have sent in their payments to date and look forward to the improvements those payments will make to the best interests of the Grand Valley.

Board of Directors,
Grand Valley Drainage District

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