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Rob Douglas: Time for clarity regarding infrastructure expenses

Five weeks ago, in a column titled "Yampa street deal unfair to citizens," I opened with the following paragraph:

"As Interim City Manager Deb Hinsvark, Public Safety Director Joel Rae and a majority of the Steamboat Springs City Council work at breakneck speed to consummate a real estate windfall to Big Agnes, Honey Stinger and BAP — while spending upward of $10 million from its reserve fund to build new police and fire facilities — city property owners may be unaware that Hinsvark and the council soon will hit them with a new tax (they'll call it a fee) to pay for approximately $10 million in stormwater infrastructure improvements."

My argument was best summed up with this statement: "It's unconscionable to spend millions of dollars — which painstakingly were accumulated under the proffered rationale of having funds for infrastructure 'needs' — on extravagant new police headquarters when those funds could be used to prevent the need for property owners to pay for stormwater infrastructure."

Evidently, the column upset Hinsvark. The same morning the column ran, Hinsvark sent the following two paragraphs by email to the City Council:

"Well, I've read Rob's Friday sermon and feel you may be sidetracked by citizens asking you about it. So, I thought I'd provide a little financial perspective to help you communicate with your constituents. First, he is simply wrong about the Big Agnes benefit approaching $2mm. The Big Agnes sale reeks only of economic development. Only time will determine the benefit to the Yampa St. revitalization and its ultimate benefit to the City.

"Regarding the stormwater needs. The City has never had a city-wide stormwater plan. We have NO (emphasis Hinsvark's) idea of the infrastructure needs to complete an integrated plan. It could be $3mm; it could be $100mm. It's a totally new city requirement and should not be expected to be accommodated from our general fund revenues. Think of it like moving from a volunteer fire company to a professional, paid fire company. It's time the City did it — but there are no new revenues to accommodate it. And it's not a one-time thing — it will be an ongoing program. A stormwater fee is the 'norm' for communities throughout Colorado."

Clearly, Hinsvark was concerned that the council might get "sidetracked by citizens" asking about whether the city was about to give Big Agnes a sweetheart real estate deal — the council will vote on that deal Dec. 18 — and whether property owners soon would be hit with a new fee to fund millions in stormwater infrastructure upgrades.

Since my column and Hinsvark's talking points email to the council, the Steamboat Today has done fresh reporting on both issues Hinsvark took exception to in my column.

On Oct. 31, in "Unbuilt land figures prominently in worth of Steamboat's downtown commercial property," the Steamboat Today gathered significant information and data on how to value downtown commercial properties. Based on that reporting, it is clear that Steamboat residents would be subsidizing Big Agnes with an amount far closer to $2 million than the $900,000 estimate Hinsvark has proffered.

On Nov. 10, in "City of Steamboat Springs considering fee system to pay for stormwater upgrades," Hinsvark acknowledged to the Steamboat Today that city property owners could be hit with stormwater fees to pay for untold millions in stormwater infrastructure upgrades as soon as next year. Further, just as she did in the above cited email, Hinsvark indicated she thought those fees should be an additional burden placed on property owners instead of finding room in existing and future city funds.

This is not about a tit for tat with Hinsvark.

It is about whether the residents of Steamboat are being presented with a straightforward, complete and timely picture of what future infrastructure expenses they will be asked to shoulder and whether, given those expenses, it makes sense to be executing a potentially multimillion-dollar giveaway to Big Agnes while simultaneously triggering an eviction countdown clock that will force the city to build new police and fire facilities it does not need at this moment in time.

Arguably, that's an open question.

To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.