Council: Start work on URA

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The Steamboat Springs City Council directed staff to start the paperwork that would allow the city to form an urban renewal authority but was cautious of moving too quickly.

David Baldinger Jr., a representative from the Base Area Reinvestment Coalition, asked the council Tuesday to speed up the approval process for an urban renewal authority so it could be established by the end of the year.

Four of the council members -- Ken Brenner, Steve Ivancie, Loui Antonucci and Susan Dellinger -- expressed concerns about how quickly the plans for the urban renewal authority were being processed.

"I am uncomfortable with how quickly this is upon us. I think we need to build consensus. I think we need to build partnerships," Ivancie said. "I am very concerned with the effects on the county, as well as the school district."

Two council members -- Kathy Connell and Nancy Kramer -- saw the need for urgency on the urban renewal authority. Connell said she was affronted by other council members' ingratitude at the amount of work, time and money the coalition had put in to develop a proposal.

"I have been on council for eight years. Every time we get to a hard decision, we back away because we don't want to get the shrapnel," Connell said.

As proposed by the coalition, an urban renewal authority would pay for public improvements such as sidewalks, streetscapes, public art and escalators at the base of the ski area through an incremental tax. If approved by the city, the authority would capture a fraction of the property tax revenues resulting from development and redevelopment of land at the ski area's base.

Baldinger said the city could lose $100,000 of tax revenue and $1 million worth of bonding potential if it waited until next year to approve the authority. A year's delay also would mean projects could not be started until 2007 or 2008.

The first and last day the council could pass the urban renewal authority plan in 2004 is Dec. 21, because of the need for a public notice at least 30 days before the council's approval.

For the plan to be enacted in 2004 and taxes collected in 2005, the city would have to approve the urban renewal authority Dec. 7 and a plan Dec. 21.

To meet that deadline, staff has to start working quickly to gather names and addresses of property owners, residents and business owners within the urban renewal authority's boundary and to send those people public notices.

A blight study, which is estimated to cost about $15,000 and evaluates the condition of the base area, also has to be completed before the plan is approved. The plan also would have to be reviewed by the Steamboat Springs Planning Commission, the Steamboat Springs School District and the Routt County commissioners.

"When I start to look at all this, I don't know if we can reasonably do this without putting our neck in a noose one more time," Antonucci said.

On Tuesday, the council directed staff to start gathering names and to research the hiring of a consultant to do a blight study. But it decided to wait until its next meeting Nov. 16 to make a final determination on sending out those public notices and spending the $15,000 on a study.

The city had planned for the first reading of an ordinance on the urban renewal authority to be held Nov. 16, but was unable to do so because it had not given a 10-day public notice.

Some council members said they were worried about the effect the plan could have on Routt County and the Steamboat Springs School District.

The urban renewal authority would generate $5 million to $10 million during its 25-year lifetime without imposing a new tax on property owners.

But additional property tax revenue that would otherwise come into Routt County or the Steamboat Springs School District during the next 10 to 20 years could go to the authority instead.

Attorney Malcolm Murray, who has been hired by the coalition and specializes in urban renewal authorities, said the proposed tax should not harm the school district because state financing would make up the difference in any shortfall the district would have in revenue.

The school district's finance director, Dale Mellor, told the council Tuesday night that the district was worried that the urban renewal authority would take away the stable funding source of a property tax and replace it with the less-certain state backfill money.

After hearing the plan in June, Routt County commissioners said they supported the concept but that the proposal should include a city sales tax and that the city should commit funding for projects at the base area.

Brenner said a component of sales tax should be fleshed out before the plan is approved.

"There is actually a cost to the school district and to the county government. I do think and they asked that we try to partnership (with them) and that we try to share the burden," Brenner said.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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