County backs ballot measure to protect water on Western Slope
The Grand County Commissioners voiced their support on Tuesday for a ballot measure that would finance water projects on the Western Slope.
Voters of the 15 counties on the Colorado River Basin, including Grand, will be asked in November to approve ballot question 7A for a mill levy increase of 0.248 mills for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. This would bring the total mill levy for the district up to 0.5 mills, equaling a yearly tax increase of $1.90 per $100,000 in assessed value for homes.
Mike Ritschard, the Grand County representative on the Colorado River District board, explained Tuesday that the district collected $169,388 from Grand in 2019. If passed, the measure would roughly double that amount and pump almost $5 million more per year into the entire district.
The district has not asked for a mill levy increase since it was created. Ritschard explained that reduced tax revenue from the energy industry and the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, combined with the reduction in assessment rates from the Gallagher Amendment, has led to financial challenges for the district.
Of the $5 million that could be raised, Ritschard said that 86% would go toward projects identified as priorities by local communities and basin round tables. The remaining 14% would fix the district’s financial deficit, but absolutely none of the funds would go toward creating staff positions.
While these funds cannot be committed to certain projects, they would go toward at least one of five categories: productive agriculture, infrastructure, healthy rivers, watershed health and water quality, and conservation and efficiency. Ritschard highlighted the Windy Gap bypass as an example of such a project.
“These projects are not going to go away,” Ritschard said. “The funding that we need at this point in time is going to help us continue these projects sooner and go more quickly.”
Zane Kessler, director of government relations for the district, added that the fiscal implementation plan for the funds would ensure they are distributed equitably across the geographic region based on need, not just population.
“(This would) ensure counties like Grand County that may not have a huge population center, like Mesa County has, are cut into this pie equally,” Kessler said.
While the commissioners expressed support for the ballot measure, Grand County makes up only a small portion of voters for it. The river district includes all the counties in the Colorado River Basin with the largest of the population being in Mesa County with Grand Junction.
“We hope this passes,” Commissioner Kris Manguso said. “Grand County certainly won’t carry it. We all know where that’s going to have to be carried, and I hope your efforts are successful over there.”
However, Ritschard emphasized the importance of outlying counties and pointed out that every vote in favor of the measure could help it pass.
“If these outlying counties can carry it at 60% or so, there’s a chance,” he said.
The commissioners unanimously approved a resolution in favor of the ballot measure, joining Delta, Eagle, Garfield and Summit counties.
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Surrounded by walls of flames, Grand County Sheriff’s Office deputies fanned out across the US Highway 34 and Colorado Highway 125 corridors to evacuate about 4,000 people from East Troublesome Fire on Oct. 21, 2020.