Routt County commissioners object to downtown Steamboat Springs urban renewal authority
January 31, 2013
Steamboat Springs — The Routt County Board of Commissioners have informed Steamboat Springs City Council President Bart Kounovsky by letter that they oppose tentative plans by the city to form an urban renewal authority in the downtown commercial district.
The commissioners say individual taxpayers in Routt County pay higher property tax bills because of the mountain URA, which funded the snowmelted promenade wrapping the ski base and the daylighting of Burgess Creek.
The role of the proposed URA could include capturing new property tax growth in downtown to fund public improvements including sidewalks on Yampa Street and possibly small parks along the river.
Commissioner Tim Corrigan said Thursday that the role of an URA should be to stimulate development of new projects that add to the property tax base. Last decade at the base of the ski area, that meant the Trailhead Lodge and One Steamboat Place luxury condominium projects, Corrigan said. But the county thinks those projects would have been built without a URA, and hence, the county is missing out on tax revenue it otherwise would have been entitled to.
"The county isn't collecting any property tax on those properties," Corrigan said. "All of that property tax is being devoted to pay off the bonds (on a snowmelted pedestrian promenade and other projects). We get zero."
The Board of Commissioners informed Kounovsky they have put the matter on the agenda for a Feb. 12 joint meeting of the two local governments.
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Kounovsky said Thursday that he thinks the county's level of concern is premature.
"I'm a little surprised the county commissioners could come out so forcefully against something that in my mind is still being formulated," he said. "A definitive plan has not been placed in front of the public, which includes both City Council and the county commissioners."
County Attorney John Merrell said based on case law, the county commissioners have limited standing to prevent the city from forming a downtown URA. Their influence, if they protested at a public hearing on the formation of the URA, would be limited to objecting to the propriety of some of the steps the city might take in forming the URA.
Like the Steamboat Springs School District, Routt County depends heavily on property taxes to maintain county roads, make its payroll, fund the sheriff's office and more. The city of Steamboat Springs does not have a municipal property tax and is primarily funded by sales tax.
In Colorado, urban renewal authorities are intended to stimulate the redevelopment of "blighted" areas within a city, for example an abandoned commercial lot, and improve the area by spurring redevelopment.
When the URA at the mountain was established in 2005, it pursued a financial tool called tax incremental financing as a revenue stream to be used to back bonded indebtedness needed to build public improvements like the promenade. The tax incremental financing allows URAs to capture growth in property taxes within their district for a period of decades and reinvest those funds into public improvements.
County Manager Tom Sullivan said the revenue the county has lost to the URA at the mountain has been eating into credits it had built up to cushion its budget from the constraints of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights and hastening the day when the county's ability to raise taxes might be capped.
In addition, Sullivan said, the county takes the position that the URA has improperly diverted property tax revenue from specific causes approved by voters, including taxes for the purchase of development rights program that conserves ranch land, taxes that support individuals with developmental disabilities and taxes that support the Museum and Heritage fund.
Corrigan and fellow commissioners Doug Monger and Steve Ivancie don't think property owners in Routt County should have to pay higher taxes to fund improvements in a downtown Steamboat business district.
"I don't think there's any question Routt County and its citizens are taking a hit here," Corrigan said. "We're not receiving revenue we would have otherwise received."
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com