Proposed URA limitation is excessive

By Terri Lynn Oldham House

Eligible voters are being asked if the Town of Pagosa Springs Home Rule Charter should be amended, as set forth by 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.”

We believe this limitation is excessive and unnecessary.

For years, community leaders have sought ways to finance the economic development of our community.

In November, the Pagosa Springs Town Council formed an urban renewal authority (URA), which provides additional economic development financing tools for our community. By passing this amendment to the town’s charter, the URA would be greatly limited in working with developers of potential projects. 

The 11-member URA commission was slated to consist of the seven town council members, an elected member from the school board, one person appointed by the county commissioners, one mayoral appointee and one person collectively appointed by the special districts that levy taxes within the URA boundaries.

Archuleta County Assessor Natalie Woodruff was appointed as the county representative, J.R. Ford was selected to be the special district representative and Greg Schulte was selected as the mayoral appointee. The Archuleta School District Board of Education declined to have representation on the URA commission.

The commission consists of leaders who have been elected by the voters or appointed by elected officials. We believe that these leaders have the knowledge, experience and integrity to perform the duties of the commission. These leaders are tasked with doing the work, studying the issues, reading reports and balancing the interests of those they represent, and they should be trusted with those responsibilities. 

TIF financing is a source of funding that takes the new taxes generated by the improvements of a development to pay for the public infrastructure necessary for that development. It does not use any taxes that existed previously. The taxing districts will get what they’ve always received, plus inflationary increase. 

The petition proposing the change to the charter was circulated by local citizens in an effort to stymie the use of TIF financing for public infrastructure such as sidewalks, additional roads and more in future developments.

Developers have to pay for the construction of the development on the site, with the TIF only reimbursing for the public infrastructure.

These days $1 million doesn’t buy you much when it comes to infrastructure. The current proposal is just too small of a cap to place on the commission.

While it sounds like a good idea to some that the voters should have the right to make the decision, we ponder, if the community doesn’t trust the leaders we have, then why do we have them?

More than that, TIF financing is not decided by the URA board. That is done in agreement with each local taxing entity negotiating the amount of revenues it would allow a potential project to receive.

For those concerned, under current law, the school district would be made whole by the state for any amount it allocates to a project as the state is required to backfill any amount that is pledged to TIF revenues by a school district and there will be no impact to the district’s finances.

We’ve witnessed the time and thoughtfulness our elected officials have put into researching and asking questions about forming a URA. We know that they do not take this responsibility lightly.

On Tuesday night, the URA commission passed a resolution adopting a guiding vision and development principles for the URA. Those items are consistent with the Pagosa Springs Comprehensive Plan. 

The commissioners for the URA agreed on a guiding vision: “Pagosa Springs desires to promote and sustain an authentic Colorado mountain experience in a culturally rich, economically diverse town set in a vibrant, healthy environment. The very existence of the Pagosa Springs Urban Renewal Authority and its efforts should be in support of this vision.”

They also established a mission statement: “The PSURA’s mission is to facilitate public and private investment in underutilized areas to address community priorities and create thriving places.”

The Pagosa Springs Urban Renewal Authority adopted the development principles to guide its efforts and resources. Some of those principles are:

• “Pagosa Springs endeavors to offer a diversity of business, education and job opportunities, supporting an economically viable community, with primary job creation and economic redevelopment being twin pillars of the intent of the PSURA.”

• “We value, protect, and enhance the beauty and health of our natural environment.”

• “We utilize, promote, and support geothermal, biomass, solar and other alternative energy as a cornerstone of community sustainability and economic development.’

• “We embrace, sustain, and preserve our historic landmarks, sites, districts, and structures and we celebrate our history and cultural heritage.”

• “The Town of Pagosa Springs offers zoning and land use regulations that support: a balanced mix of land uses, densities, neighborhood types and commercial areas; development that adds vibrancy and density while maintaining the community’s unique, authentic and small town character; and residential development and infill at an array of price points to attract and retain workers within the community.”

• “We believe it is critical to plan, build, and maintain necessary infrastructure to support the community.”

• “We affirmatively discourage the use of eminent domain for PSURA projects and view it as a tool of the very last resort.”

As demonstrated by the thoughtfulness of the above principles, we believe the URA members have the best interests of our community in mind. We believe they will diligently work on our behalf to make important decisions.

At the same meeting where this vision and mission were approved, the new owner of the former Adobe Building property on Lewis Street inquired about working with the URA. 

No project has currently been submitted to the URA commission for consideration, including the 27-acre multiuse development adjacent to The Springs Resort and Spa or the property on Lewis Street.

If any project comes before the URA commission, it would be the responsibility of the commission to examine the details of the proposal. We believe it would be unwise to put such a low limit on the size of a project that the commission can approve without an election.

There are already multiple layers of checks and balances in the URA and our taxing districts, which include the Upper San Juan Library District, San Juan Water Conservancy District, Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District, Pagosa Fire Protection District, Upper San Juan Health Service District, Southwestern Water Conservation District and Pagosa Springs Sanitation General Improvement District.

We don’t need to place additional limitations on the process. We need to let them do what they were selected to do. While many of us do not like change, we shouldn’t resist new ways of doing things.

We are not big fans of unlimited growth. We do, however, believe in thoughtful and planned growth. 

We do not love change, but change is going to continue to happen here in Pagosa Country, just as it has happened for hundreds of years. 

This story was posted on July 9, 2020.