Election day is looming; have you filled out your ballot? This will be a consequential election in that a majority (four) of the seven Trustee seats are up for grabs. One of the things I find interesting about small town government is that political parties don’t really play a role, at least not outwardly. It just comes down to the issues.
Unfortunately, it seems like we’re back to the same old divisive issue, does Palisade modernize, grow and prosper, or does it stay a sleepy little town that is lovely to live in but becoming a little run-down and not particularly welcoming to visitors? And before I get a bunch of angry mail that says “Yes, we are welcoming!” let me say this… I don’t mean that the human touch isn’t there, I know that Palisade is full of warm, friendly, helpful people! I’m talking about our facilities and amenities.
Except for The Wine Country Inn, there is not really much nightly lodging here in town. The Wine Country Inn is a beautiful facility, getting better all the time, and I would love to stay there. When I was younger with small children I would not have been able to. Without many lower priced options here in Palisade, tourists continue on into Grand Junction to spend their lodging money on Horizon Drive. Palisade Basecamp RV Resort is hoping to take up some of the slack, there are a few very nice B & Bs, and we have licensed a number of Short Term Vacation Rental homes to provide more lodging alternatives to guests. This has not always been popular, it’s the old NIMBY problem (Not In My BackYard). There is a small nightly lodging fee on every room/night and the fees go directly to support the marketing of Palisade. (There is a volunteer Board that oversees the distribution of these marketing funds and the meetings are open to the public.) Do we really want our guests to leave at the end of each day and $tay $omeplace el$e after spending so much effort to get them here?
It has taken years to develop a more stable restaurant business in Palisade, simply because it is a lot harder than it sounds. Without a stable market, and I’m talking about a ‘population’ that regularly eats a few meals a week in a restaurant, it is very hard to make ends meet running those restaurants. Without a stable market, restaurant owners don’t know how much food to order, or how much staff to schedule. These are financial decisions that must be made every day! Deliveries only come a couple of times each week, so ordering needs to be accurate in order to have enough freezer or cooler storage space, for instance. If you order too much, food will spoil and your investment is lost. Order too little, and you won’t be able to serve the large groups that could potentially stop on their way across the interstate, or come into town for a conference. It works the same with staffing, you have to schedule in advance to be sure to cover any business opportunity that might arise, but if you constantly overstaff, again, your investment is lost. Then there is the issue of being closed certain days of the week, and certain weeks and months of the year. While understandable with an irregular tourist market, it actually serves to discourage tourism when people don’t know what is open and when.
A retail shop has the same basic problems as a restaurant, minus the food spoiling. If you aren’t open when the tourists happen to come by, you lose. If you are open 24/7, but just a few people come in, you lose again. The inventory may not spoil, but there is still the question of how much money a shop owner can keep tied up in inventory ‘just in case’. And how many hours can a shop owner put in without hiring staff when there is little regular business to depend on?
For these reasons, and a dozen others as well, it is difficult to attract businesses to open up in Palisade. Our economy isn’t quite year-round, so it is hard for many small businesses to keep the bills paid and the lights on through the long, slow winter.
Why, you might ask, is it even desirable to attract new businesses to Palisade? That is the question that I keep hearing people asking at Trustee meetings and elsewhere around town. Many people want to keep the town ‘just like it always was’. I’m curious, exactly when and what was that? I hear that we don’t need another gas station, we don’t need RVs driving through town, we don’t need another bank and certainly not a Dollar General! I hear all that, but still, I disagree. ‘The way it was’ included plenty of shops and businesses in downtown Palisade. We even had a weekly newspaper! The difference was that the population of Palisade supported them and kept them in business. That is not the case any more, since so many Palisade residents now do all their shopping in Grand Junction. You can’t have it both ways.
Maybe some citizens don’t need or want certain businesses, but the rest of us that are also citizens often do. Like many residents, I probably won’t spend a lot of time at the new Golden Gate gas station, but I also see the need for it. I may not want to drive that far to put gas in my car, but I DO need for my town to collect the sales tax revenue that a gas station right off the interstate will generate. What a windfall! Same for Dollar General. A lot of us don’t want to walk the mile and a half from parking lot to Wal-Mart, then two or three miles inside for some Kleenex or aspirin! Dollar General’s setup allows me to park at the door of the store, get in and out in a couple of minutes, and the sales tax they collect benefits me directly as a citizen of Palisade. I don’t know if many people know where sidewalks, bike racks, parks and new pavement come from, but Santa Claus doesn’t bring them. It’s expensive to run a town! If we don’t encourage new development, our town will die of stagnation. Although Agritourism is our brand, most peach growers and other agricultural operators don’t pay town sales taxes. Nothing against peach growers at all, but facts are facts.
Many citizens have expressed their hope that nothing would change in Palisade, that their children could grow up without a care, without any traffic on the streets, or any strangers in town. Really? What universe are they living in? It’s not just Palisade that is changing, all of Colorado is booming. Grand Junction expects almost 50,000 new residents in the next 30 years. Are we going to keep them all out of OUR town? How? Why? Should property taxes go up instead? Or should services be cut back? There is a new subdivision with about 65 new homes being planned for property south of Highway 6 in the area near the high school. I have a feeling that those new residents ARE going to want town services after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on their new homes and property taxes. They’ll be moving here because Palisade is growing, not because it is stifling growth. These aren’t current residents that are upsizing, most will be brand new residents coming to experience small town life. It can be provided along with growth if done thoughtfully. And on the plus side, new property tax revenue will be welcomed.
From what I overhear around town, citizens count on our police and fire departments to protect them in an emergency, and generally think they do a good job. However, those first responders don’t work for free. Wait, actually, our firefighters ARE volunteers; we pay the Chief and the EMS Chief, but the rest work for us, risking life and limb when necessary, for free! However, the police are paid, and the town staff is also paid, and there are substantial costs to run departments such as Public Works with the watershed, treatment plant and lagoon pond system plus all of our parks, streets, public buildings, vehicles and swimming pool. The lagoons will be outdated in just a few years, requiring a multi-million dollar investment in a new treatment facility. The fact that our firefighters aren’t paid means that we constantly lose them to GJ and other towns that pay their firefighters once they’ve been trained here at our expense! It’s really hard to imagine how all those things are going maintain or improve without new businesses AND new residents. I guess property taxes could go up…and up… but it might be better to encourage some new shops and services instead.
On the subject of the candidates running for the four open Trustee seats, I have been hoping that they would at least make the time to check out a Trustee meeting before trying to BE a Trustee, but unfortunately, only Jesse Loughman and Eric Croy show up with any regularity; actually Jesse has been at almost every meeting for the last few years. I seriously question the commitment of the other candidates, do they realize they’re going to be expected to be at EVERY Trustee meeting EVERY two weeks for the remainder of their term? For some reason, one candidate wasn’t present at the Candidate Forum put on by the Chamber last month nor took the time taken to present a position paper. ‘Trustee’ may be basically a volunteer position (with a small monthly stipend attached) but the town needs to be run, whether you have children at home, ANOTHER JOB, relatives visiting, a Bronco game on TV or ANYTHING else. Personally, I won’t be voting for anyone that hasn’t made time to see what the job is all about, or what the current issues facing the Board are. I think we all deserve to have representatives that will take the time to prepare thoroughly and come to the meetings ready to make decisions.
Ballots are due at Town Hall by 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, April 3. Please take the time to consider the choices and cast your votes for Palisade’s future. (Please be advised that Gary Miller has chosen to withdraw, but ballots had already been printed so his name still appears.)