Tuesday, January 18, 2005
The urban renewal authority in the vicinity of the Steamboat Ski Area base is a smart investment in the community's future, and the City Council was right to approve it Tuesday.
The URA includes property within walking distance of the base area. The authority will issue bonds for capital improvements, and tax revenues from new development and redevelopment within the area will be dedicated to paying back those bonds. Essentially, 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.
State law allows the city to create a URA without voter approval. Ironically, the URA does not directly affect city taxes because the city does not have a property tax. Instead, it is county and school district property taxes that are affected.
At a meeting Dec. 21, the City Council postponed a final decision on the plan to take time to work with Steamboat Springs School District and Routt County officials who opposed the plan. Essentially, the school district and county were concerned that the city was committing future tax dollars that the entities might need.
The city reached an agreement with the school district to mitigate the district's concerns. The agreement is not legally binding; however, the city has promised to provide financial aid should the URA negatively affect the district. The council also agreed to commit a portion of city sales tax revenues toward the URA's goals, which should help alleviate the county's concerns.
The city should be applauded for its willingness to take such steps, which were not required but go a long way in garnering stronger community support for the URA.
We think the URA ultimately will benefit the school district and county as much as the city. The URA uses a small amount of public funds to attract private investment that will add significantly to the overall tax base. And redevelopment of the base area properties should spur an increase in retail sales, thus driving city sales tax revenues. Again, the school district stands to benefit through the increased revenues from the half-cent sales tax for education.
The members of the Base Area Reinvestment Coalition, the initial proponents of the URA, deserve credit for developing this plan. It is a creative strategy that we think will encourage base area property owners to invest in improvements and redevelopment that are sorely needed and long overdue. It should be noted that URA opponents have offered no alternatives.
The City Council was right to approve the URA on Tuesday. Now, let the improvements begin.