Colorado citizens may be surprised to learn that over $770 million in property tax money has been redirected away from schools to locally formed Urban Renewal Authorities (URAs) across the state. Recent trends are even more concerning, with nearly half this amount occurring in just the last 5 years.
How do a select few city council members override the thousands of ballots that allocated this money to local education funding? To combat what Colorado law defines as “slum and blighted” areas which “contribute substantially to the spread of disease” and are “injurious to the public health.”
Areas like Vail’s Lionshead Village, where skiers can pay up to $145 for a lift ticket before retiring to $500 a night hotels like the “Country-Club style” Marriott. Declared as blight and slum by the town’s city council in 2003, a URA was created that has cost Eagle County schools over $10 million in local property tax revenue.
Shortly thereafter the Steamboat Springs City Council declared its ski area base a slum and formed a URA in 2005. Some of the first redevelopment projects included the razing of Ski Times Square, which remains demolished to this day, and One Steamboat Place, which faced foreclosure a year after opening.
Some say the URA created as much blight as it eliminated. It currently diverts over $400,000 a year in local property tax revenue away from the school district while also increasing property taxes outside the URA to cover the school mill levy overrides and bond payments that are not paid for by new development within the URA or backfilled by the state.
The Steamboat City Council is now looking to enact a second URA downtown. Most council members have questioned the existence of actual blight and slum, with one member calling such a declaration “ridiculous.” And for good reason. Over 200,000 square feet of downtown redevelopment has occurred in the past decade with city tax reports showing between 8.6% and 12.3% retail sales growth across both winter, summer, and mud season.
Despite the area being so obviously popular that it fails to even remotely match the legal requirements for enacting a URA, a public hearing has been scheduled for June 16th to charge forward.
The original project scope included $350 per square yard pavers, $200,000 in art, and a restroom costing more than the average single family home in the area. To pay for this, at least $500,000 in local property tax revenue will be redirected away from the schools to a city who recently counted more than $10 million in excess cash reserves on hand.
And just like with the mountain, property taxes outside the URA will increase for the mill levy overrides and bond payments.
These are local examples but they impact schools across the state, including yours.
Every dollar the state spends backfilling diverted property taxes is a dollar that can’t be divided among all of the other school districts. The $773 million in cumulative URA backfill represents $4.3 million per district. Just the $82 million spent last year is nearly a half million dollars per district. What could your schools have done with an extra $500,000 last year?
All of this insanity in the fight against blight, real or contrived, is at the expense of our children’s education.
Scott Bideau is an elected member of the Steamboat Springs Board of Education