Scott L. Ford: Pay for it the right way
Infrastructure improvements in downtown Steamboat Springs are needed and long overdue. So why is creating a new district within the Urban Renewal Authority the wrong way to pay for them?
In 1979, legislation was passed that allowed Colorado municipalities to establish URAs and identify geographic districts within them. The purpose of this legislation was to give municipalities a planning/financing tool of last resort. This tool was intended to address situations where the physical conditions of an area within the town/city had deteriorated to the point that there was little or no hope of social/economic revitalization without significant government intervention.
On June 16, City Council, acting in the capacity of a panel of adjudicators must confirm or reject that the physical conditions in downtown Steamboat have deteriorated to the point it should be declared “blighted.” Although, technically, one or more conditions of “blight” as defined in the law may exist, City Council must declare that, because of the overall shabby conditions downtown, it justifies using the URA as the only means available to pay for improvements in the area.
Has downtown Steamboat deteriorated to the point as required in the URA law that it constitutes an economic and/or social liability, and are conditions such that it is a menace to the public health, safety, morals or welfare of the community? I think there is a large body of evidence to the contrary.
■ Sales tax collections downtown have increased 17 percent since 2008.
■ Downtown’s share of total sales tax collection has increased from 19 percent in 2008 to 21 percent in 2014.
■ In the past year, Steamboat has been featured in eight national publications ranging from the New York Times to Forbes as a great place to visit. These same publications cite the downtown area as one of the key reasons.
■ Prominent local real estate companies promote downtown as the place to live as well as to invest.
■ A major commercial re-development project in the heart of downtown totaling 30,000 square feet has recently been approved.
Downtown Steamboat has not deteriorated to the point that there is little or no hope of revitalization. In fact, the exact opposite is occurring — the area has never been more vibrant. Declaring downtown as blighted for the sole purpose of establishing a URA district in order to redirect future sales and property taxes for up to 25 years is absolutely unnecessary. Doing so is an abuse of the intended purpose of the URA law and, more importantly, such a judgment would be intellectually disingenuous.
Without question, infrastructure improvements are needed downtown. These improvements would enhance the enjoyment of both locals and visitors. However, they do not need to be debt-financed through a URA/TIF. One option to pay for these improvements would be to use a portion of the $8 million currently set aside for the construction of a police station.
It typically is more advantageous to the taxpayer to finance buildings and pay for infrastructure with cash. This community has shown its willingness to vote and pay for essential public buildings provided the need has been established and thoroughly vetted. This process is currently occurring with the police station committee.
Downtown improvements have been discussed for more than 30 years. It is time to do them. However, creating a new URA district to pay for these improvements is unnecessary. There are far better ways to do it.
Scott L. Ford
Steamboat Springs City Council / District II
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