By Randi Pierce
The proposed Timber Ridge Metropolitan District is one step closer to formation following approval of a service plan by the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners last week.
Per state statute, in order for the BoCC to approve the service plan, four mandatory requirements must be met. These were read by County Attorney Todd Starr at the hearing:
• “There is sufficient existing and projected need for organized service in the area to be serviced by the proposed special district.”
• “The existing service in the area to be served by the proposed special district is inadequate for present and projected needs.”
• “The proposed special district is capable of providing economical and sufficient service to the area within its proposed boundaries.”
• “The area to be included in the proposed special district has, or will have, the financial ability to discharge the proposed indebtedness on a reasonable basis.”
In addition to these four mandatory elements, five other discretionary elements exist that the BoCC may consider in approving or disapproving the plan:
• “Adequate service is not, or will not be, available to the area through the county or other existing municipal or quasi-municipal corporations, including existing special districts, within a reasonable time and on a comparable basis.”
• “The facility and service standards of the proposed special district are compatible with the facility and service standards of each county within which the proposed special district is to be located and each municipality which is an interested party under section 32-1-204(1).”
• “The proposal is in substantial compliance with a master plan pursuant to section 30-28-106, C.R.S.”
• “The proposal is in compliance with any duly adopted county, regional, or state long-range water quality management plan for the area.”
• “The creation of the proposed special district will be in the best interests of the area proposed to be served.”
Floyd Smith, an attorney specializing in special districts who drafted the service plan, said the metro district in question would provide two services — roads, and parks and recreation.
Smith said the homeowners’ association began analyzing and investigating its options several years ago, mainly because the HOA’s road fund was, “terribly underfunded,” and because of Bristlecone Drive’s status as a public street.
“It truly is a public road,” Smith said later, adding that it should be maintained by a public entity.
Smith said the need for service is clear, referring to the first mandatory requirement.
Also concerning the matter, Smith voiced concern that a recent planning commission hearing may have incorrectly looked at the situation, considering who, between the HOA and metro district, could better provide services — something that does not question the actual need.
“You struggle with road maintenance,” Smith said. “It’s one of your biggest concerns.”
Smith said the HOA has been able to meet minimum maintenance requirements on its road because the roads are relatively new, but that maintenance was being deferred.
Smith said the HOA took a loss from the subdivision’s developer of more than $1.9 million, further compounding funding issues, and that the HOA’s reserve fund included nothing for parks and recreation development and maintenance.
Smith said spending would be limited to what is in the service plan, would be more transparent and, to accommodate the maintenance required by current levels and future growth of the subdivision, the HOA would have to raise its fees.
Property tax, Smith said, has a higher collection rate than an HOA lien would, meaning more money for the services outlined in the plan, and would leave the HOA to manage the subdivision’s covenants and design reviews.
And the property tax assessment may be more feasible for residents to pay, Smith said, with residents of the subdivision currently paying $600 in annual dues, with property tax assessments from a future mill levy potentially being less for some property owners.
Additionally, a metro district would mean funding resources other than cash in the bank, Smith said, referring to options such as bond initiatives.
Other revenue forms potentially available, Smith said, were Highway Users Tax Funds, which the county receives based on the number of road miles in the county. Smith said Timber Ridge’s roads are not currently included in the county’s road miles, meaning additional HUTF funds (estimated to be in the $20,000 range), would make their way to the county.
Smith further cited using local contractors as a way to inject additional money into the community.
Adequate service is not currently available through the county, Smith said, with the county unable and unwilling to tend to the roads within the subdivision (the initial developer agreement gave ownership and maintenance of the roads to the HOA), with the county providing no parks and recreation services in the area.
The service plan is also in compliance with master and regional plans for the area, Smith said, with plans desiring future road improvement, as well as metro districts.
Smith pointed out that water quality and debt concerns were not pertinent to the proposed service plan.
Opened to commissioner questions of the applicant, Commissioner Steve Wadley pointed out Smith’s note that the reserves for the HOA are, “terribly underfunded,” when they sit at 39.6 percent — falling within the “fair” category, according to a consultant.
Commissioner Michael Whiting pointed out that an HOA gives all subdivision residents a say, while a metro district would limit votes to eligible Colorado electors (however, a property owner with a main residence in Texas spoke in favor of the metro district later in the meeting).
Several residents of Timber Ridge spoke at the meeting, most in favor, but some in opposition to the request.
Prior to any public comment, Commissioner Clifford Lucero asked that all in attendance be respectful, with no loud outbursts, noting, “This, too, will pass.”
Several residents, including members of the Timber Ridge HOA board, spoke of the numbers relating to the fund reserves necessary for road maintenance over the coming decades, as well as the inadequacy of the current dues. Added were opinions that the lack of funding would, in turn, affect property values as the road quality worsened.
An April census of Timber Ridge property owners was also mentioned, with the results reported at 72 percent in favor of the metro district, 25 percent against, and 2 percent indifferent.
Others spoke of the increased revenue opportunity and a better governing structure for the services outlined in the service plan.
Others said those residents living in the area full time pay taxes, including road taxes, but see none of that money, while Bristlecone Drive serves as a main road connecting Trujillo Road with the west end of Pagosa Springs.
Those speaking against the service plan questioned the HOA transferring its assets to the metro district, leaving it without money to defend itself in any legal matters, and expressed concerns over the HOA sheltering its assets in the metro district.
Other comments against the formation of the metro district cited current ways to obtain more funding than a metro district can (such as dues and grants), and noted that current needs were being met by the HOA.
An individual who recently purchased property in the subdivision questioned the HOA’s ability to pay off debt related to land recently repurchased by the HOA after it fell into foreclosure.
Others questioned the need for parks in the subdivision and a need for recreation amenities outside of horse facilities.
The matter then returned to the commissioners, and mainly included further discussion over the service plan’s mention of the metro district receiving HUTF funding, something all three commissioners voiced concern over, with Smith stating that it was simply an example of potential funding available to a metro district.
In the end, after nearly two hours of discussion on the proposal, the BoCC unanimously approved the service plan via a resolution that also explicitly stated that any decisions regarding HUTF funding would be considered later.
Now, the plan must be filed with District Court and a hearing set to put the proposal to election.