Routt County commissioners have strong words for city about URA plan
Steamboat Springs — A proposal to use tax increment financing to fund downtown infrastructure improvements in Steamboat Springs continues to catch heavy flack from local county commissioners, school board members and some community members.
During a brief meeting with city staff on Tuesday about the urban renewal plan, Routt County commissioners offered some of their sharpest criticism to date of tax increment financing by labeling the funding mechanism “crony capitalism” and a “scam.”
At the conclusion of the meeting, they sent another letter to the Steamboat Springs City Council to air their concerns.
The council is set to vote on the urban renewal plan next week after a public hearing.
“Along with other entities, we have expressed our objections to the designation of downtown Steamboat as blighted, we question the supposition that growth will not occur without these improvements, and we disapprove of the URA capturing the incremental tax that will be immediately realized upon the conversion of public buildings to private ownership as well as previously planned development,” the commissioners wrote.
At the meeting, commissioners urged the Steamboat Springs City Council to adhere to a new state law if it decides to move forward with tax increment financing.
The law, signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper late last month, will ultimately give counties, school districts and other taxing entities more of a say in how municipalities spend tax dollars on urban renewal projects.
City council members could potentially enact a new URA plan as soon as next week and not have it be subject to some parts of the new law because it does not take effect until next year.
After Jan. 1, any new urban renewal authority will be required to have representation on its board from an elected school board member, a board member of a special taxing district and a board member appointed by the county commissioners.
The bill also requires cities to negotiate with other taxing entities over the proportion of sales and property tax increment that is dedicated to urban renewal projects.
County Commissioner Tim Corrigan said if the council agrees to abide by the new law, it will give the county a seat at the table and give the city “a better product.”
Commissioner Doug Monger labeled tax increment financing a “scam” and a “shell game.” He said its use could damage current and future intergovernmental agreements between the city and the county.
“We want to have partners I can trust, and I want to have people I can feel won’t stab me in the back when I turn around,” Monger said. “This isn’t urban renewal. This is a scam of stealing someone’s money.”
Commissioner Cari Hermacinski said the city council that approved the city’s first urban renewal plan area in 2004 acknowledged the use of tax increment financing could harm other taxing entities, but she hasn’t heard that from the current council.
She called the use of tax increment financing “crony capitalism.”
A message posted on the back window of a vehicle parked outside the downtown courthouse where Tuesday’s meeting took place claimed the URA proposal would “take money from our schools.”
An assortment of anti-URA fliers have also popped up at recent city council meetings.
In recent months, the city council has heard mixed opinions from members of the public regarding the urban renewal plan.
Several prominent members of the business community have backed the plan, saying it will benefit the entire community.
Some council members and community members have also contested the belief of some community members and school board members that the use of tax increment financing would hurt local schools by redirecting property tax revenue to the urban renewal projects.
“We’re not decimating the schools,” city council member Walter Magill said in April when the council scheduled the upcoming URA vote. “If we do this, we’re doing this with the idea it’s going to help the schools…To come down here and say the sky is falling for the schools because we’re contemplating a URA, that’s just not true.”
The public will have a chance to weigh in again Tuesday night just before the council considers approving a downtown urban renewal plan.
The hearing comes after recent meetings city staff has had with the county and the school district to further discuss the potential impact of tax increment financing.
“Bottom line, we feel like we’re a partner in the community, and the last thing we want to be is the bully,” City Manager Deb Hinsvark said after Tuesday’s meeting with the county commissioners. “That’s not where we want to be. We’re the city who really has an obligation to protect the city’s interests. That’s our obligation. But at the same time, we like the partnerships we’ve created with the county and the school district, and we want them to continue.”
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