Local officials oppose town ballot question

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By John Finefrock
Staff Writer

County and town officials publicly opposed a town ballot initiative pertaining to the local urban renewal authority (URA) at the county commissioners’ work session on Tuesday morning.

Archuleta County commissioners Steve Wadley and Ron Maez, the county assessor and the mayor of Pagosa Springs all came out against the initiative during the discussion.

Commissioner Alvin Schaaf explained he opposes the ballot initiative in a follow-up phone call.

Pagosa Springs Mayor Don Volger paraphrased the language of Ballot Question A, set to be voted on by town residents during a special election on July 14, at the work session.

“What it reads is that you’re voting for a petition that says that if the development is a million dollars or more than it has to go to a vote of the people,” Volger said. “If it goes through a vote of the people, that’s gonna be additional time, additional cost, additional effort and it’s gonna be very, very cumbersome. Personally, I don’t know how the URA can function at all if the ballot language is passed. So, if you support reasonable development, vote against this ballot language.”

URAs, according to a Colorado Municipal League publication on the topic, are “independent single-purpose statutory bodies ‘corporate and politic’ authorized to carry out urban renewal projects and regional tourism projects under the Colorado Urban Renewal Law …”

URAs and urban renewal laws “allow municipal governments to engage in urban renewal projects as a means to improve blighted areas,” according to a Colorado Legislative Council Staff issue brief by Katie Ruedebusch.

A project approved by the local URA could be funded through tax-increment financing (TIF). TIF financing is a funding mechanism that takes the new taxes generated by the improvements of a development in a URA project to pay for the public infrastructure necessary for that project.

Ballot Question A reads, “Shall the Town of Pagosa Springs Home Rule Charter be amended, as set forth in Ordinance No. 932, by the addition of the following provision: ‘Any proposal by the Town Council or by the Pagosa Springs Urban Renewal Authority to use Tax Increment Financing (TIF) must first be approved by the Town electors whenever the total TIF revenues are expected to exceed $1 million ($1,000,000) over the life of the project.’?”

Archuleta County Assessor Natalie Woodruff, who serves as the county representative on the URA commission, suggested if the measure is passed it could hamper the board’s ability to do its job.

“The urban renewal authority is already formed, that’s already in place. What’s happening with the ballot is something that’s going to restrict the ability of the URA to do its job, and not only could it restrict the URA from doing its job, but it could result in lawsuits that the town then would have to foot the bill for,” Woodruff said, adding, “I understand where the people are coming from because basically what you’re saying then is you don’t trust the people you’ve elected to do the job you’ve elected them to do.”

“The bottom line is that if we want reasonable development in town, this is a great tool to use to encourage and support developers,” Volger said, adding, “If people would like to see reasonable development that is a cooperative effort between public and private, between taxing entities and developers — we have a vehicle through the URA that will bring all those people together to put together a project that meets some of the plans that we’ve had forever.”

Wadley and Woodruff explained there are misconceptions about the URA and the ballot initiative.

“It doesn’t physically take any money out of somebody’s pocket that was already there,” Woodruff said. “It just is a method by which a developer can be repaid for his investment costs.” 

“People’s objection to this is that they just don’t understand it. If they spend five minutes lookin’ at it, they realize these people are fronting their own money and only use the increased value of the property tax to get paid back what they already paid; and if the money doesn’t come in, they’re the ones that are out,” Wadley said. “This is something that benefits the community, that the private sector is paying for and when I hear about corporate welfare, it is not true. These business people are putting their money where their mouth is and hoping to get paid back through the increase of the property tax and it’s their money. We’re not putting up the money. So quit just saying ‘no’ to everything and look at a great opportunity and embrace it. If you don’t understand it, spend some time until you do, but you just don’t have to be against anything that somebody else is doin’. This is a great idea for this community.”

Maez encouraged locals to do their own research about the ballot initiative instead of going by, “Oh, so and so said this.”

“It’s gonna take outside money to make this community great, it really will,” Wadley said, adding, “Government doesn’t have the money to do this. We’re never gonna have it. We have an opportunity here and I hate to see it go by the wayside ‘cause there’s not many more of them coming in our lifetimes.”

Ballots have already been mailed for the special election on July 14, for which Ballot Question A will be the only item on the ballot.

The election is an independent mail ballot election, with ballots mailed to eligible electors of the Town of Pagosa Springs on June 22.

The location to drop off ballots or receive replacement ballots is Town Hall, located at 551 Hot Springs Blvd. Town Hall is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day, July 14.

Voters must be 18 years of age as of the day of election, be a citizen of the United States of America, be registered with the town clerk or Archuleta County clerk, not be in prison and have legally resided within Colorado and within the town limits for at least 22 days immediately preceding the election.

There will be no election precinct or polling place for the election and all ballots shall be returned to the election official’s office at Town Hall.