Plans for downtown URA continue despite concerns from Routt County commissioners
February 13, 2013
Steamboat Springs — The Steamboat Springs City Council on Tuesday night assured the Routt County Board of Commissioners it will “have a seat at the table" when the city and a group of downtown stakeholders formally propose a way to fund revitalization efforts downtown.
During a joint meeting, commissioners told council members they support the growing effort to revitalize Lincoln Avenue and Yampa and Oak streets, but they don’t want the improvements to come at the expense of the county’s property tax revenue.
"We are very much in favor of those improvements, but it’s our concern how it’s done and who is at the table discussing it," said Commissioner Steve Ivancie, a former Steamboat Springs City Council member.
The commissioners last month sent a letter to the council opposing the city’s tentative plans to establish an urban renewal authority in the downtown commercial district that would fund public infrastructure through tax incremental financing.
The county is concerned the URA could cause it to lose out on the potential revenue that would come from increased property values attributable to growth in the downtown commercial district.
The commissioners said individual taxpayers in Routt County pay higher property tax bills already because of the city’s existing URA that funded the promenade at the base of Steamboat Ski Area.
Despite the commissioners’ opposition to a downtown URA, council member Sonja Macys said the city shouldn’t rule it out.
"I don’t think we are going to take that off the table for discussion," Macys told the commissioners, adding it was "early in the game" and the funding mechanisms still were being vetted by the city and downtown stakeholders. "I do think we need to leave the door open to all options."
She invited the commissioners to attend a meeting the city is holding Thursday to continue discussing the potential URA for downtown improvements.
Commissioners said they didn’t want the city to get too far along in its planning for a URA before it realized the county’s opposition to the plan.
A downtown URA would have to be approved by the City Council, which hasn’t yet heard a presentation on the proposal.
County Attorney John Merrell told the Steamboat Today last month that based on case law, the county commissioners have limited standing to prevent the city from forming a downtown URA.
"We heard you loud and clear. (Planning Director Tyler Gibbs) and his group has heard it loud and clear," council President Bart Kounovsky told the commissioners. "You guys are at the table without a doubt."
URA plans continue
As the county makes its concerns known, the city and a growing downtown revitalization committee are moving forward with plans to fund improvements downtown.
Planning Director Gibbs said Thursday’s meeting in Centennial Hall will be led by Anne Ricker, the consultant the city has hired to advise it on the development of a downtown URA.
Ricker is an expert from the Centennial firm Ricker Cunningham who came to Steamboat in November to discuss establishing a possible URA or other funding mechanism for the downtown area.
"It’s a complex issue and not a one size fits all," Gibbs said about the potential funding mechanisms. "We’ll be having an initial discussion to start to understand what we don’t know yet on all these issues."
Calling a URA the best funding mechanism for future downtown improvements, Mainstreet Steamboat Manager Tracy Barnett said she recognized it could have a financial impact on the county, which depends on property taxes to maintain county roads, make payroll and fund the Routt County Sheriff's Office, among other things.
She added that the county’s concerns should be weighed.
"There can be some compromise, and the idea (the county) could have a seat at the table is a valid one," Barnett said.
She said the URA potentially could offset some of the financial impacts to the county by bringing in more sales tax dollars downtown and encouraging growth outside the district.
"There are some ways to make up some of that funding," she said.
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com