Opinion: On business and subsidies | PostIndependent.com

Opinion: On business and subsidies

Jim Hoffman
Free Press Weekly Opinion Columnist

It seems that a “business friendly” city council may be friendlier to some than others.

For a small business trying to open a new location, the development fees imposed by the city of Grand Junction may often mean nothing happens. Between development fees and landscaping requirements, a small business frequently finds that costs are prohibitive and simply abandon their dreams of doing business here.

While we do support an attractive city in which businesses have an obligation to assist in maintaining appearances, we are a bit baffled as to the rationale in which development fees/landscaping requirements seem to be either waived or paid by the city. The latest recipient of the city’s charity is Catholic Outreach. While the development of housing for the homeless is laudable, should the development fees be paid from our tax dollars even after it has been reported the project will go forward without such generosity?

It appears that the city opts to waive and/or pay development fees for those most easily able to pay them (millionaire developers and the like) while remaining steadfast when a less well-heeled entrepreneur is involved. Waiving of development fees means we, the tax payer, are subsidizing businesses or developments in an inconsistent and possibly unfair manner. City council needs to quit spending our money in this area — development fees should either be collected or not collected, and our city council’s ability to waive some and charge others in a system that seems to indicate favoritism should be ended.

It has long been held as a truism among conservatives that government has no role in business, especially in an area that is best left to “free enterprise.”

So, it is with a bit of astonishment we now see Councilor Duncan MacArthur championing government subsidies for a business venture. The specific venture is the development of an infrastructure to increase and improve the market opportunity for Compressed Natural Gas (CNG).

MacArthur has reportedly claimed that subsidies going to alternative energy resources (solar, wind and the like) should also go toward developing CNG. I am a bit flummoxed here as it was thought that subsidies were bad, but now are not bad if they benefit extractive energy companies? Locally, previous forays into this area have been met with the traditional “let private industry do it” type of response.

Also locally, we have seen the county take the lead in the purchase of CNG vehicles and the development of a CNG fueling station. Reportedly, this has been of benefit to county taxpayers as the bill for diesel fuel has decreased substantially. The city of Grand Junction may be able to reap similar benefits and should be able to do so by perhaps sharing resources with the county to expand CNG usage among the city’s fleet. The city should be encouraged to take positive steps to reduce expenses, and CNG may be a way in which it may do so.

However, should the city have a role in assisting the energy industry develop an outlet for their product? In most accountings the energy industry has sufficient resources to do so on their own dime.

They certainly are not needy and should be capable of installing an infrastructure of CNG fueling stations that would expand the already growing market for this product/service. As electrical utilities offer rebates for products that benefit both the consumer and the utility, perhaps it would be feasible for energy companies to develop programs that would assist in the purchase of CNG vehicles.

Free enterprise needs to be encouraged to grow their own markets; the use of government subsidies allows them to do so with less commitment while reaping the rewards.

Maybe if we fail to step into this market, the result will be the same as failing to provide more subsidies to the Catholic Outreach housing project; it will not be a “deal breaker” and the concept will move forward and succeed without the expenditure of our already overextended municipal and county budgets.

GJ Free Press columnist Jim Hoffman is a local Realtor and investor who, when not working, loves skiing, camping and fishing (in season). He may be reached at freepressjim@gmail.com.

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