Attention citizens of Colorado Springs: Colorado Springs is no longer a low tax town!
We have more than 80 special taxing districts within the boundaries of which residents and businesses pay higher property taxes. The established excess mills are in large part controlled by the developers of the districts and can be in place for up to four decades. Often residents do not discover their homes are in a special district until they sit down at the closing table and it’s too late because of investment and emotional reasons to walk away. Business people who want to locate in certain areas have no choice but to pay the higher mills and sacrifice profit. In some cases, the mill levy can exceed 40 mills for 40 years – for businesses, it can be 50 years.
In addition to taxes on property, other creative methods are employed to separate citizens from their money. Public improvement “fees” (PIFs) are the result of private agreements between developers and business tenants, which many consumers don’t even know exist until they have paid for their merchandise at the register. In the Nor’wood Development’s First & Main Town Center, for example, PIFs are being collected on all taxable services and goods.
Certificates of Participation (COPs) are creative financing tools (read “circumvents accountability by the voter”), which create municipal debt. El Paso County commissioners are regularly placing citizens of El Paso County in this kind of debt without our knowledge because they call the debt “annual leases” or other innocuous terminology that won’t garner the public’s attention. This was a tool used in Detroit.
Tax incremental financing (TIF) diverts a portion of our city sales tax to help fund select projects. In the Copper Ridge development, home of the new Bass Pro, a portion of city sales tax above an established baseline is diverted before it hits our General Fund. At the Copper Ridge development, the diverted funds will be used to complete Powers Boulevard to I-25. At least this TIF is funding a road which the public will, in effect, own and the TIF will end when Powers is complete, or in 25 years, whichever is sooner. That’s not the case with the City for Champions TIFs.
For financing purposes, City for Champions establishes a Regional Tourism Zone (RTZ) which covers about 90 percent of the city. A baseline will be established for the RTZ, and for 30 years, 100 percent of city sales tax collected over that baseline will go toward paying for City for Champions projects – that’s according to data on Mayor Steve Bach’s last application to the state. Using a TIF in this manner could stagnate our local economy, while maintenance of roads, stormwater issues, and other infrastructure needs are neglected.
In addition to the City for Champions “City TIF,” there is also a “County TIF” in the Master Financing Plan – a plan that is being forwarded by politicians Bach, County Commissioners Amy Lathen, Dennis Hisey, and Sallie Clark, and City Council Members Jill Gaebler, Merv Bennett, Val Snider, and Jan Martin. Including the cost of financing, over 30 years, these two TIFs will service bonds to the tune of $250 million. That does not include funds that will come from the City Parking Enterprise and municipal debt. It is absurd that we should fund projects at this amount when the ownership of the projects has still not been worked out and these projects do not fall under the role of government.
Regardless of financing methods, a plan like the City for Champions will cost millions of dollars – money that will be coming from us taxpayers. The sheer size of the project invariably puts all other needs of the community on the back burner. Given the unlikely event that this doesn’t require a tax increase by itself, it certainly guarantees us one down the road.
It is time for citizens to have a voice in the taxation of our hard-earned dollars and for all businesses to receive equal treatment under the law. Demand a vote for any of our taxes, including those going to an unproven “vision” called the City for Champions.
Kanda Calef is Vice President of the Colorado Springs Republican Women and an elected member of the El Paso County Republican Party Executive Committee. She is a co-host on Common Sense radio on 1460AM, Saturdays, 2-3 p.m. This op-ed originally appeared in the Colorado Springs Gazette.