Paul Strong: URA answers

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Editor's note: The following are responses to questions raised by John Spezia in a letter to the editor published Dec. 26, 2004. The responses were prepared by Steamboat Springs City Council President Paul Strong. This is Part 1 of the responses. The remainder of the questions and answers will be printed in Monday's Steamboat Today.

Q. Many of the improvements, i.e. sidewalks, lighting, landscape, stream renovation and convention center will be on private property. Why is the public paying for these private property improvements?

A. Urban renewal authorities rarely provide funding for improvements to private property, unless those improvements are essential to the success of improvements to public spaces. Many of the improvements listed in the Mountain Town Sub Area Plan are on private property, but the URA does not propose funding those improvements -- just the public improvements, such as turnarounds, street realignments and pedestrian amenities, that go hand-in-hand with adjacent private property improvements.

Q. The undeveloped land in the URA, i.e. Tennis Meadows, when built out will generate exponential TIF property tax that will go to URA and not to all the services, needed support systems and districts that are necessary to meet the new growth demands. Sales tax and the restricted property tax will not support these new needs. How will the URA make up this difference? Please present figures and charts that are valid and realistic.

A. Tennis Meadows is expected to be a residential development. Under the Gallagher Amendment, residential tax rates are less than one-third of commercial tax rates. Consequently, the tax revenues from Tennis Meadows would be small compared to a large commercial development such as Wildhorse Marketplace. All current taxing entities will continue to receive the property taxes they currently receive and will benefit from typical property tax growth. Only the property tax generated by new growth within the URA will be available to the URA for approved capital projects.

Q. Money does not just appear magically. Where would this money from the TIF originally go and what services and districts will not receive this money they ordinarily receive.

A. To repeat: All taxing entities will continue to receive the money they ordinarily receive. The tax generated by new growth within the URA boundary will remain with the URA for specific projects. To the extent that the incremental tax revenue exceeds the amounts needed for those projects, that revenue would be returned annually to the taxing entities on a prorated basis. Projects that would not be undertaken without public-sector involvement represent taxes that would not be paid without the URA.

Q. The boundaries appear to be deliberately set down to achieve special agendas not in the public's interest. The boundary should emphasize the walking distance a typical tourist is willing to walk as the area of influence. Why did the URA choose these odd and illogical boundaries?

A. At the bottom of all these unsupported assumptions is probably the question, "Why did the URA choose these boundaries?" The answer is that the URA didn't.

The City Council did, because council wanted areas that might benefit from the URA to participate in its funding. However, when reminded that the URA should be drawn "as narrowly as possible," City Council said it would consider shrinking the boundary to one that better meets the definition of "narrow."

Q. What is the process to change the boundaries now and in the next year or so if the public or the districts affected do not think they are working?

A. Once City Council addresses the current map, as it has said it will do, future minor changes to the boundary could be made by the URA.

Q. Commitment by property owners and developers is needed. The public and the districts need to see the following information from the developers or owners on their private property:

1. Timeline of development

2. A physical plan for remodels or new buildings

3. Money commitment for a funding source for the URA

4. A maintenance plan so they do not become "blighted" again

A. The city has commissioned the firm of Stan Clausen Associates to produce a revision of the now-dated Mountain Town Sub Area Plan. That revised plan for the Mountain Base Area is due in May. Private property owners, the county, the Steamboat Springs School District and the public will be invited to participate with the city in a series of public meetings to produce the revised plan, and then everyone will be able to see the recommended list of improvements, timeline and associated costs. City Council has received several letters from private property owners and developers indicating that they are prepared to move forward with redevelopment plans in conjunction with the public improvements that could be funded by a URA.

Q. A guarantee that inflation costs will be covered for all parties affected. Will the county's incremental tax increase of the base line that occurs every two years be sufficient to cover this?

A. It is uncertain what costs are incurred by the county by providing services to the proposed URA area. The city thinks that the county's "incremental tax increase of the base line that occurs every two years" will be sufficient to cover these costs, if any.

Q. Who controls the URA, who is on the URA board, does the public have a seat on the board, who elects or appoints the board, how can they be removed, can the public have real input on these matters?

A. Because the City Council has insisted from the beginning that the URA board must be as accountable and its affairs just as transparent as City Council itself, City Council has determined that the City Council will be the URA board.

Q. The state has reduced its shortfall to about $260 million after severely cutting back on roads, prisons, education and social services. The next areas to receive even more cuts are the schools as well as other vital social services. How can the state make up the shortfall to schools or other needs if this extra property tax goes to URA?

A. The state receives no property tax. Consequently, the state loses no tax revenue if incremental property taxes go to this or any other URA. The state's Education Finance Act is a separate, statewide issue of high priority that is unrelated to URAs.

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