Our View: URA will help schools, county

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The proposed urban renewal authority at the vicinity of the Steamboat Ski Area base is a smart investment in the community's future, and the City Council should give it final approval Tuesday.

The Base Area Reinvestment Coalition is the group advocating for the urban renewal authority's creation. The URA would include property within walking distance of the base area. The authority would issue bonds for capital improvements, and tax revenues from new development and redevelopment within the area would be dedicated to paying back those bonds.

Essentially, a portion of property tax revenue increases resulting from increases in valuation within the URA boundaries would be reinvested in the area to enhance and rebuild public infrastructure such as lighting, sidewalks, transit facilities and streetscapes. The URA would have a lifespan of 25 years and is expected to generate $5 million to $10 million during that time.

In a 4-3 vote, the Steamboat Springs City Council gave preliminary approval to the plan Dec. 7, despite resistance from the Steamboat Springs School District and Routt County. The council will consider final approval on the plan Tuesday.

The city has the power to create a URA without voter approval. Ironically, the URA would not directly affect city taxes because the city does not have a property tax. Instead, the county and school district, both of which are property-tax funded, would give up some portion of future revenues under the plan.

But what the school district and county must recognize is that the URA has the potential to spur property tax revenues that likely wouldn't be there otherwise.

The theory behind the URA is that a little bit of public investment will be the catalyst for larger private investment that will add significantly to the tax base of the school district and the county.

Also, redevelopment of the base area properties should spur an increase in retail sales. That increase will drive city sales tax revenues. Again, the school district stands to benefit through the increased revenues from the half-cent sales tax for education.

In the larger scheme, the $5 million to $10 million it is estimated that the URA will generate during 25 years likely is not an overwhelming amount of money. Given the amount of infrastructure work that is needed in the area around the base of the mountain, we think the city will have to commit additional funding to infrastructure improvements in the area beyond what the URA generates.

We think the City Council should underscore its commitment to provide that funding as necessary.

The URA is the best idea we have heard for upgrading the base area. It will generate revenues that aren't likely to come from other sources, and it will encourage base area property owners to invest in improvements and redevelopment. The City Council should approve the URA on Tuesday and set in motion the long overdue overhaul at the mountain.

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