Some officials think it’s time to wind down the Steamboat base area URA | SteamboatToday.com

Some officials think it’s time to wind down the Steamboat base area URA

Skiers walk on the promenade at the base of Steamboat Ski Area on Thursday afternoon. Some City Council members are suggesting the city start to curtail spending of the tax revenue that goes into the urban renewal area at the base of the mountain.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Business leaders at the base of Steamboat Ski Area are preparing themselves for what could be a spirited debate with some of the city's elected officials over the future funding of major infrastructure projects at the base area.

Since 2006, the city has used tax revenue generated from an urban renewal area — URA — to build such things as a promenade, sandy beaches along Burgess Creek and a traffic roundabout.

The funding in the URA isn't scheduled to expire until 2029. But some Steamboat Springs City Council members are suggesting it's time to start curtailing the spending and winding the URA down well before the tax funding sunsets in 2029.

Council members who support putting the brakes on some of the URA project spending think it would be wise to more quickly pay off the debt taken on to build the projects.

But there are varying opinions on the council dais about how much of the URA spending should be curtailed.

The council last month barely approved the URA budget for 2018 in a 4-3 vote because of concerns about some of the projects being funded, including the relocation of a historic barn from the Meadows Parking Lot to a knoll near the Steamboat Grand.

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Councilman Scott Ford, a proponent of starting to unwind the URA spending, thinks the diversion of other tax funds from other local governments, schools and other taxing entities amounts to "not playing nice in the sandbox."

"It's like a bag of snakes," Ford said of tax increment financing, which diverts a portion of property tax revenue that would otherwise go to other governments to improvement projects at the base area.

Councilwoman Kathi Meyer said last month she wants a URA budget next year that included a line item for starting to pay down some of the debt on top of the normal annual debt service obligations.

She added she thinks the remaining URA funding should only be spent on projects that address life safety issues.

Council members also discovered this month that an estimated $43,000 of property tax revenue will go to the base area URA instead of to the Yampa Valley Housing Authority this year for affordable housing projects.

The diversion of tax money that voters approved late last year for housing projects came as a surprise to the Housing Authority, members of the city's Urban Renewal Authority Advisory Committee — URAAC — and members of council.

The diversion is a result of state law that dictates how tax increment financing is distributed to urban renewal areas.

Business owners at the base area who recommend improvement projects in the urban renewal area don't think the overall base area spending should be decreased in the coming years.

They think there are a number of projects still left to accomplish, including an overhaul of the Gondola Transit Center.

And they fear that if the City Council puts the brakes on some of the projects, other potential funding sources won’t materialize.

"I think we're half done, and (Scott Ford) thinks we're mostly done," URAAC committee member David Baldinger Jr. said at Thursday's meeting.

URAAC is planning to work on an educational project that appears to be at least partly an effort to prevent an early stop to the URA funding.

Asked if the work was going to be aimed at justifying the advisory committee and its work, URAAC co-chair Steve Frasier said yes, to a degree.

"It was unanimous back in the day that there was a need" for this funding mechanism, Fraser said. "Has that changed?"

One committee member suggested creating a website that includes the history of the URA and projects that have been accomplished.

Others thought putting before and after photos of areas at the base area would also show the impact of the tax funding.

Baldinger Jr. said the city needed to continue maintaining and investing in the base area, which he called the economic engine of Routt County.

"There's a lot more we can do to stay competitive," he said. "If you neglect it, there's going to be a huge problem."

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10.