City Council, School Board discuss downtown urban renewal plan |

City Council, School Board discuss downtown urban renewal plan

— The Steamboat Springs School Board continues to express concern about the city’s potential downtown urban renewal plan, which the board believes would harm the school district.

During a joint meeting with the Steamboat Springs City Council Monday night, several school board members urged the council to exhaust all other funding options before considering an urban renewal plan that would use some property tax increment to fund infrastructure like sidewalks and pedestrian lighting.

School board members say the plan would make their district more reliant on state funding. The state backfills any property tax increment that is diverted to urban renewal projects, but school board members said it can only be backfilled if the state has the money available.

They expressed concern that may not be the case in the future, and some board members said the use of tax increment financing, or TIF, has already negatively impacted school district budgets in the state.

City officials and some City Council members, however, contest the view that the use of a TIF negatively impacts the school districts. They say other taxing entities in the urban renewal area stand to benefit because infrastructure improvements invite more development and boost property tax revenue.

Council member Kenny Reisman said data shows there is an “overwhelming success rate” for communities that have used tax increment financing in an urban renewal area.

After more than an hour of discussion and a presentation from the school board about the financial impacts of tax increment financing on school district budgets around the state, both the City Council and the School Board left the door open to some sort of a compromise should the council decide to move ahead with a TIF.

“I want to figure out a do-no-harm (agreement) that really means do no harm,” council member Tony Connell said.

Connell, who has expressed support for a TIF because of the potential return on investment downtown improvements would bring, raised the possibility of the city only using sales tax increment in a downtown urban renewal plan.

The city’s proposal for a downtown TIF is heavily reliant on sales tax versus property tax.

“I think there’s room to negotiate here,” Connell said.

A hold-harmless agreement could also be used to ensure that, if state funding is not available for some reason in the future, the school district would not be harmed financially.

School board members had concerns that went beyond the reliability of state funding.

Scott Bideau said some substantial development projects — like the redevelopment of the Yampa Valley Electric Association headquarters and the sale of the downtown public safety campus — are likely to occur in the coming years regardless of whether an urban renewal plan goes forward.

In that case, he said, the school district would lose out on the property tax increment from those developments if a TIF is enacted.

Some city council members had a different view.

Council president pro-tem Scott Myller said an urban renewal plan and the use of tax increment financing is poised to benefit both the city and the school district.

“I think you’re going to see property values increase faster than if we don’t do this,” Myller said. “I would encourage you to be part of the community and help us get this done.”

School board members said they are not opposed to the proposed downtown improvements.

The council, which has not decided which funding mechanism it will ultimately use to fund downtown improvement projects, will learn more about the use of tax increment financing at an April 28 council meeting.

Council member Scott Ford called the use of tax increment financing a “bag of snakes,” saying there are other ways of funding the downtown projects.

School board member Robin Crossan said she hoped Monday’s joint meeting would be the first of several with the council regarding the urban renewal plan.

“I would hope tonight is the beginning of more conversations,” Crossan said. “It’s the first of probably many meetings. I think if we can find out what harm means, there is a way to move forward.”

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10

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