Thursday, January 8, 2004
If downtown property owners go to the trouble to bury utility lines underground, they should be given incentives to do it, according to the City Council.
That direction has city staff reworking an ordinance so that the city would either share the cost of undergrounding utility lines or offer property owners other incentives.
On Tuesday, the council unanimously opposed the ordinance's original wording, which would have made all downtown property owners and developers pay for the cost of burying electric, phone and cable lines during any new building or redevelopment.
The council said it was comfortable having new development bear the full cost of burying utility lines but worried the added costs could deter existing downtown property owners from remodeling their buildings.
"We don't want to try to penalize someone that is trying to rejuvenate the downtown," Councilman Loui Antonucci said.
City Deputy Manager Wendy DuBord said a reworked ordinance that would provide incentives to downtown property owners will be brought back to the council in February.
"If someone is going to remodel anyway, there is some advantage to undergrounding their services rather than us coming back and doing it again with taxpayers' money," DuBord said.
The original ordinance would have added significantly to the cost of the building downtown. The ordinance was intended to help defray the city's cost when it begins an eight-year project in 2006 to put the lines underground in the downtown area.
On Dec. 16, the City Council approved the first reading of the ordinance with little public comment. But Tuesday, council members said that cost was too much to ask. Councilwoman Kathy Connell recommended either sharing the cost of the undergrounding or offering other breaks in the development or remodeling process.
City Manager Paul Hughes said the undergrounding project is a incentive in itself, cleaning up the downtown allies and backyards.
"This is a benefit to the entire city, not just the businesses that are there," Hughes said.
The city had hoped in its original ordinance that requiring utility lines to be placed underground during building or remodeling work would mean not having to return to the site later to bury lines and redo the electrical system.
The city had planned to start an undergrounding project in 2005, but budget constraints caused the council to push the start year back to 2006. The $4 million project is broken into four phases stretched out to 2012. A Yampa Valley Electric Association 1 percent franchise fee will fund the project, but DuBord said it would take years before enough money is raised to cover the cost of the project.
The city has agreed to fund the project up front and continue collecting the money from the franchise fee. The fee raises about $120,000 a year.
The council suggested using money from that fund to help finance the incentives.
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