Our View: Don’t waste time with ballot question
February 2, 2011
Steamboat Springs — It's simple: A ballot issue asking voters to approve a property tax to support the Yampa Valley Housing Authority will not pass.
Given the likelihood of such an outcome, the Housing Authority would be better served working with the city of Steamboat Springs and Routt County on a plan to effectively manage the assets it already has. At the top of that list is determining how to get out from under a $2 million interest-only loan for a parcel of undeveloped land off Elk River Road near U.S. Highway 40.
The Housing Authority's board of directors is schedule to meet Feb. 10, when it could receive a recommendation from its strategic planning committee to move forward with a November ballot question. While a ballot question may have had a chance at success several years ago, it seems extremely unlikely that residents beaten down by a struggling economy will agree to tax themselves to solve an issue — affordable housing — that doesn't currently exist.
Perhaps the ballot question would serve simply as a referendum from the community on the overall need for a housing authority to oversee affordable housing efforts. But for those who would just assume the Yampa Valley Housing Authority go away, be careful what you wish for.
The Housing Authority, formed through an intergovernmental agreement between the city and county almost a decade ago, owns and/or manages several properties. Those responsibilities include overseeing the Hillside Village apartments and the Fish Creek Mobile Home Park. Both of those projects are revenue-generators, albeit small ones. The Housing Authority also manages a relatively new down payment assistance program, to which the city donated $100,000.
Significantly, the Housing Authority also is encumbered by the $2 million interest-only loan on the Elk River Village land parcel. The Housing Authority is making about $110,000 a year in payments on the loan. Housing Authority Board President Rich Lowe describes the loan as an anvil on the back of the agency. Efforts to sell the property have been unsuccessful.
Those management duties and debt payments won't simply go away as a result of a ballot question defeat. Instead, the current exit plan is to hand over existing Housing Authority responsibilities to the city. Having the city in the housing business hasn't exactly been successful.
Instead of wasting time, effort and money on a ballot question that seems doomed for failure, the Housing Authority's board of directors should concentrate its efforts on hammering out a plan with city and county officials that will allow the Housing Authority to continue to manage its existing assets while taking strides to pay off the burdensome debt of the loan on the Elk River Village parcel. That likely means continued annual operational funding from the city and county, each of which has contributed about $80,000 a year.
Achieving near-term sustainability then leaves the door open to future organizational growth when and if the economy and community support dictate it.