What is the Mountain URA and how does it affect Steamboat school district funding? | SteamboatToday.com

What is the Mountain URA and how does it affect Steamboat school district funding?

People gather at the promenade at the base of Steamboat Ski Area in 2017 to enjoy music and wade in Burgess Creek, a project that received funding from the Mountain Urban Renewal Authority.
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The Mountain Urban Renewal Authority and the money it diverts from the Steamboat Springs School District has been discussed in the race for Steamboat Springs Board of Education.

The URA is a tax increment financing mechanism used to fund infrastructure improvements around Steamboat Resort’s base area by diverting property tax revenues from other taxing entities.

At a forum among candidates focused on addressing the local child care crisis, a candidate suggested the board ask Steamboat Springs City Council to cancel the URA, eventually freeing up as much as $1 million for the Steamboat Springs School District.

But school district funding is very different than other taxing districts, and District Finance Director Mark Rydberg said the district only lost out on about $57,000 in funding because of the URA in 2020.

“It is inaccurate to say that the school district is losing out on money to the tune of $1 million plus. We’re technically losing $57,000,” Rydberg said. “If the URA ended last year, and all the other assessed values stayed the same, I would collect $57,000 more this year.”

When looking at all the money the district collects through property taxes, Rydberg said the district’s loss equates to 0.24%.

This is because of all the district funds that collect money from property taxes, just one — the Capital Projects Fund earmarked for technology, construction, differed maintenance and other capital expenses — is affected by the URA, Rydberg said.

The Capital Projects Fund stems from a 2017 ballot question Steamboat voters approved that limited the amount of money the district collects to 1.146 mills, a different phrasing than other measures voters have approved.

In other funds, it isn’t the mills that were the basis of the question but the total funding. With these, Rydberg calculates what mill amount is needed to generate the dollar amount he is allowed to collect.

“All those (funds), where it is a fixed dollar amount mill levy, it doesn’t matter what the assessed value is, I’m collecting that,” Rydberg said.

The district’s largest fund is the Total Program Fund consisting of a mix of property tax revenue and state funding that together need to add up to the number of students multiplied per pupil funding.

“The locals pay something, and the state backfills the rest,” Rydberg said.

The URA was set up in 2004 and has a 25-year life span, making it set to expire in 2029.

“The idea was by improving the public infrastructure … it would increase the value up at the mountain of both public and private holdings,” said Steamboat Springs City Council member Kathi Meyer.

Essentially, the idea is that improving public infrastructure will increase property values in the area, incentivize more people to build there, and when the URA expires, taxing districts will have a larger tax base to collect from. In the meantime, public improvements are paid for with bonds funded by property taxes collected from these incremental property value increases.

The current Steamboat Boulevard roundabout project, as well as a proposed project at the Gondola Transit Center have received URA funding.

Since the URA went into place, property valuations in the area have grown by about $55 million, according to Routt County Assessor Gary Peterson.

But not everyone views the URA as a good thing.

Routt County, which has several mill levy-based funds, lost out on about $874,000 in revenue last year to the URA, according to Routt County Finance Director Dan Strnad.

Taxing districts with a fixed mill levy — Yampa Valley Housing Authority, two local water conservation districts, East Routt Library District, Steamboat Springs Cemetery District and Colorado Mountain College — all also lose out on property taxes because of the URA, according to Peterson.

Proponents argue these districts will have a higher property valuation when the URA expires, allowing these districts to collect more taxes than they would have before.

Meyer said the URA has done what it was intended to do and has allowed for improvements around the base area where land ownership is much more fractured than at other ski resorts. Meyer said she believes the URA has, at least in part, led to current renovations at the ski area.

“They view Steamboat as a ski area worth of capital dollars, and I think the URA is part of that,” Meyer said.

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