Steamboat City Council rejects downtown URA
Steamboat Springs — The downtown urban renewal authority is dead.
But the Steamboat Springs City Council’s resolve to pay for millions of dollars worth of downtown infrastructure improvements in the coming years remains very much alive.
As a large audience of local business leaders and community members looked on Tuesday night, the council rejected a controversial downtown urban renewal plan that would have used tax increment financing to pay for more than $7 million in public infrastructure improvements.
Now, the council is racing to find another way to pay for the improvements that include new sidewalks and a promenade on Yampa Street.
Instead of tax increment financing, the council is considering using a combination of reserve funds, grants and certificates of participation to fund the projects.
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The council asked city staff to bring a range of alternative funding options back to Citizens Hall July 7.
“We took one financing option off of the table, but I remain very bullish on this,” City Council President Bart Kounovsky said Tuesday night of the proposed downtown improvements after he and three other council members rejected the proposal to use tax increment financing.
The plan to use tax increment financing, or a TIF, to pay for the improvements has been in the works now for nearly three years.
The financing tool ultimately became too complicated and controversial for the council to pull the trigger on.
As they voted to shoot down the URA plan, several council members said a new urban renewal law, which was signed last month by Gov. John Hickenlooper, created a lot of uncertainty and made tax increment financing a less viable option for Steamboat.
City Manager Deb Hinsvark told the council the new law had spurred some banks to stop lending money to municipalities for urban renewal projects.
The law also requires municipalities to negotiate with other taxing entities over the amount of property tax increment that can be dedicated to improvement projects.
Prior to Tuesday’s vote, the Steamboat Springs School Board, Routt County commissioners and some community members continued to express strong opposition to the financing tool.
A citizens group has also been circulating a petition to give the public control over the city’s urban renewal decisions.
The changes to the state law combined with uncertainty over the effectiveness of the financing tool ultimately led the City Council to reject the urban renewal plan.
“I believe in (tax increment) financing, but it’s gotten too complicated and too slow for me,” council member Tony Connell said after he made the motion to take the URA plan off of the table. “We have other financing tools to get us across the finish line.”
After some debate, the council voted, 4-2, to reject the plan.
In addition to Connell and Kounovsky, council members Scott Ford and Walter Magill supported taking the funding option off the table.
Council members Kenny Reisman and Scott Myller expressed support for tax increment financing.
“It is a tool we can use to make this community better,” Reisman said . “Is there some risk? Yes. Every opportunity in the world has some risk.”
Council member Sonja Macys was absent from the meeting.
In an unusual move, Tuesday’s vote to reject the URA was taken before a scheduled public hearing on the topic.
Several community members who were in the audience to weigh in on the plan instead went up to the podium to thank the council for rejecting it.
The community members pushed the council to find a different way of funding the downtown improvements.
“We need to figure out how to pay for this,” MainStreet Steamboat Springs board member Sally TeStrake said. “We need sidewalks. We need safer places for people to cross the street.”
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