Did You Know? Arapahoe Prevails Over the Aurora Urban Renewal Challenge

pillars

Arapahoe County Prevails Over the Aurora Urban Renewal Challenge on TIF
(Italics are used to denote actual language from the Court’s Judgment Case #16CA0393)

On February 23, 2017 Judges Graham Taubman and J.J. Navarro found in favor of Arapahoe County on the timing of Aurora’s urban renewal tax increment financing (TIF). The Urban Renewal Law (URL):

“authorizes the use of tax increment financing (TIF) to fund renewal projects. TIF uses recently assessed property values in an urban renewal area to establish a base tax value. § 31-25-107(9)(a), C.R.S. 2014. As property values increase above the base value, increased tax revenues are allocated to the financing of the renewal project.”

At issue was whether or not all four of the TIF provisions in the Fitzsimmons Urban Renewal Plan had started.

“The parties disagree as to the meaning of “the effective date of adoption of such a provision” with provision referring to TIF. Aurora argues that the “effective date of adoption of such a provision” is different from the “effective date of the approval of such urban renewal plan,” and allows a city to delay the “effective date of adoption of such a provision” by writing a delay into the urban renewal plan.

The Assessor argues that the “effective date of adoption of such a provision” is synonymous with the “effective date of the approval of such urban renewal plan,” and that a city cannot delay the “effective date of adoption of such a provision” by writing a delay into the urban renewal plan.”

This decision has implications to Littleton’s Urban Renewal Plans, which we hope the LIFT board will take notice. The citizens of Arapahoe County should be very grateful that we have such a talented group serving the County in our Assessor’s office and the office of the District Attorney. They are looking out for us.

To read the entire Court ruling please follow click here.

Advertisements

FTR: LIFT Resignations

At the 10 January 2017 council study session, Bruce Beckman announced that there had been three resignations from the LIFT board and a fourth member that was not seeking another term.  Since that meeting another resignation has been delivered making five vacancies.  At present, the LIFT board has no executive director, no projects, one urban renewal area and two out of seven members.  What happens next?  We are not sure.

The law states: 31-25-104(2)(c) Vacancies other than by reason of expiration of terms shall be filled by the mayor for the unexpired term… The mayor shall file with the clerk a certificate of the appointment or reappointment of any commissioner, and such certificate shall be conclusive evidence of the due and proper appointment of such commissioner.

What we do know is that there will not be another LIFT meeting until there are enough members for a quorum!

Littleton City Council Repeals Three of Four Urban Renewal Plans

pie-chart

Months after councilman Jerry Valdes asked staff how they could “unwind” urban renewal, council finally voted. The urban renewal board (known as LIFT, which stands for Littleton Invests for Tomorrow) is on life support with only one plan left to implement, Columbine Square. The Santa Fe, Littleton Blvd., and North Broadway urban renewal plans were repealed after being approved almost two years ago. No projects for those areas had been put in place.

A number of citizens attended the meeting to voice their support for the repeal of the three plans and abolishment of LIFT. Only a handful of citizens were opposed to the repeal. Concerns about Resolution 88 and subsidizing developers were among the primary reasons for supporting the repeal of the three plans.

Resolution 88 was passed by the city council in Sept. 2014. It provides each of the taxing entities impacted by the tax increment financing (TIF) scheme with veto power of urban renewal projects. Arapahoe County, from the very beginning, expressed their opposition to all four plans, which would, per Resolution 88, render the projects without the ability to be moved forward for lack of the County’s “full support and approval.” At one point the three councilmembers that were in favor of retaining all the urban renewal plans, chose to utter unkind words about the County’s position as if they had forgotten that they had actually given the County the veto power for any project.

But the most easily understood reason for repealing the plans is that citizens do not favor diverting tax dollars away from the schools, parks and county for the next 25 years to subsidize development. This was a real point of contention for Jerry Valdes who asked more than once about why the tax dollars had been diverted when the council had been told that there would be none taken from the taxing entities. He never got an answer to this question.

Doug Clark, Peggy Cole, Bruce Beckman and Jerry Valdes voted to repeal the three plans. Debbie Brinkman, Phil Cernanec and Bill Hopping voted to keep them.

After the three plans were repealed, the next item of business was to abolish LIFT. If LIFT had been abolished it would have automatically repealed the Columbine Square urban renewal plan. Several citizens spoke about the disregard for the community displayed by the owner of Columbine Square Shopping Center, Carl Chang. He has allowed the property to fall in disrepair after forcing his tenants out by not renewing their leases. He now wants to use our tax dollars to redevelop the 15-acre site. Citizens are not happy with him or the loss of tax revenue to Littleton.

Mr. Chang spoke to the council and audience, saying he was sorry for the state of his property. He provided a little history and stated that he did not want to use urban renewal, but needed money to add public amenities.

When the vote was taken as to whether or not to abolish all the urban renewal board (LIFT), Jerry Valdes voted with Debbie Brinkman, Phil Cernanec and Bill Hopping to keep it alive.

Now LIFT has some work to do. With the abolishment of three of the four urban renewal plans, thousands of tax dollars need to be returned to the rightful taxing entities. Debt needs to be paid back to the Littleton taxpayers.

City Council also has some work to do. We hope they will take some time, in the near future, to discuss just how they will implement Resolution 88. Now is the time to do that – not when a project comes forward.

Cernanec Changes His Position on Urban Renewal Depending on the Office He’s Running For

Council member Phil Cernanec has flip-flopped in the last few months about whether or not urban renewal is good for Littleton.  It seems to depend upon whether or not he’s running for office.Cernanec had been in favor of urban renewal until—still on city council but running for county commissioner—he changed his mind for a few months.  In his campaign literature while running for county commissioner, Cernanec said, “FACT:  Littleton City Council has asked staff to research and provide the steps necessary to withdraw current Urban Renewal plans and disband LIFT (Littleton’s Urban Renewal Authority) since its use in Littleton is now impractical.”

When Cernanec lost the county commissioner election on June 28, 2016, he reverted to being a city council member.  He suddenly once again supported urban renewal—and its taking taxes that citizens intended for schools and parks.

Back to being a city council member, Cernanec voted on Dec 6, 2016 to keep urban renewal and all four of the urban renewal plans.  See the story in this issue about city council’s repeal of three of the four urban renewal plans.

Did You Know? Retail Sales Taxes are on the Rise for Urban Renewal Areas

chart

The Urban Renewal (UR) law provides an opportunity, by state statute, to rid the community of slum and blight that retards the sound economic growth of an area.  When the UR Plan provides for the use of any increase in sales tax to be used to help defray the cost of an urban renewal project, a sales tax “base” for the area has to be determined.  The law stipulates that there is a “look back” period of the previous 12 months  – whatever was collected in that time period becomes the base for all future year collections, and in our plans that is for 25 years.  Any increase in sales tax will be compared to the base and anything above the base will be diverted to LIFT, our UR Authority.

Typically, municipalities do not include sales tax increment to fund Urban Renewal projects for a couple of reasons.  First, it diverts needed sales tax revenue out of the General Fund to the UR authority.  Secondly, it is a difficult calculation to make.  (Imagine you have sales tax on your Comcast bill, other telephone providers, sales tax on a car that you buy but purchased elsewhere…..  You can see that it is a tricky thing to establish.)

Because Urban Renewal is used to rid a community of slum and blight there is generally a dip in sales and property taxes for the first few years while redevelopment is occurring.  And slum and blighted areas, by statute, constitutes an economic liability to the community so it makes sense that new tax dollars would not be present for a few years.  But, as someone from the Institute of Justice told us as they were driven around Littleton to see our slum and blight, Littleton has the best looking slum and blight they had ever seen!

There’s nothing like numbers to prove a point so here you go.

  • Columbine Square UR Plan Area – Sales tax collection was up $19,500 for 2015.  That represents an additional $650,000 in retails sales and a 7% increase over the look-back period.
  • Littleton Blvd UR Plan Area – Sales tax collection was up $71,581 for 2015.  That represents an additional $2,386,033 in retail sales and a 13.6% increase over the look-back period.
  • North Broadway UR Plan Area – Sales tax collection was up $22,959 for 2015.  That represents an additional $765,300 in retail sales and a 2.5% increase over the look-back period.  But this calculation is being challenged.  The city did not follow the law that states anything collected over the base is increment and is to be deposited into the special fund of the UR authority.  The city decided they could use the increment to pay King Soopers their tax share-back amount that was negotiated in a separate agreement.  Acting city attorney will be issuing a second opinion and we expect to see this number increase.

As you can see, Littleton is thriving, even in our “slum and blighted” areas.  With the increases that we are seeing in the Urban Renewal areas, perhaps we should leave well enough alone!  We don’t need to fix what is not broken.

Tell City Council—Littleton Has Great New Businesses (without the help of Urban Renewal)

dev-proj
Click on to see Littlet0n’s Development Activity List

There are great new businesses in Littleton.  That is shown by stories about Rocker Spirits above, and about Lewis & Cluck in our previous issue.  Add to that the new businesses announced in the Littleton Report which comes to you in the US mail.  Commercial development is thriving in Littleton without out taxes being confiscated by Urban Renewal.

Yet, to hear the fans of Urban Renewal tell it, our city is blighted to the point that we must take tax money intended for schools and parks and hand it to developers and businesses.  One of our favorite examples is handing money to King Soopers after they had already committed to renovate their store at Littleton Bvd and S. Broadway.

According to LIFT (Littleton’s Urban Renewal Board) member Kyle Schlachter, the solution to our “deteriorated, deserted and downright disappointing” commercial corridors is to fill them up with businesses that aren’t successful enough to stay in business without our tax dollars.

City Council member Bill Hopping explained on 10/4/2016 that the purpose of Urban Renewal is to fund, with our tax dollars, businesses and projects that would not be feasible without our help.  Hopping repeatedly reminds us that he is a businessman, yet he insists that it is “good for the city” to support businesses that aren’t financially sound.

We wonder, what projects and businesses are they talking about, and who makes the determination that a project is “good for the city?”

While the few approved urban renewal plans are deliberately vague on specifics of projects, the accompanying impact reports do show the types of projects: more than 1,300 apartments. What our tax dollars would be funding through Urban Renewal is lots of new apartments which aren’t commercially feasible on their own.  How is that good for the city?

Who makes the determination that a project is “good for the city?” The answer is LIFT, Littleton’s Urban Renewal board of unelected people who have already picked failed projects which have cost the city $9 million.  This is not “good for the city.”

What can you do?  Right now, email or phone the members of City Council and tell them to
repeal the urban renewal plans and to disband the LIFT Urban Renewal board at the Dec 6 meeting.  You can find contact info for City Council at http://www.littletongov.org/connect-with-us/city-leadership/city-council-members. Or you can attend the meeting and express your opinion during public comment.

No Room for Citizen Input–A Tale of Two Authorities

 

book-3

There’s been a lot of discussion about the Urban Renewal Authority, aka LIFT, in Littleton over the past few years. But there is another Authority in Littleton that has pretty much stayed under the radar until now.

South Metro Housing Options (SMHO), formerly known as the Littleton Housing Authority, was created in 1970. Not knowing that much about SMHO other than that they provide and help with low income housing (LIH) in Littleton, we decided to refer to the Colorado Revised Statutes (C.R.S.) to see what the housing authority is all about.

It didn’t take very long to realize that some of the language in the C.R.S. for urban renewal is similar to the language in the housing authority statutes. For instance:

• They are both a body corporate and politic granted public powers in the C.R.S..

• They both can be created with a petition, filed by twenty-five residents of the city, requesting the city council to approve the formation of the authority. Council can deny the petition.

• A resolution approved by council establishes each authority.

• The mayor appoints the members. In other words, they are unelected.

There is one difference between the Authorities that is worth noting. SMHO does not need to have their “plans” approved by the council. They make their decisions and in spite of the good that they do for citizens that need the help, their decisions can impact the quality of life for residents already in the community. LIFT has to have their “plans” approved by the council. This allows for public hearings throughout the process. And, because of Initiative 300, citizens get to ratify any urban renewal plans that come about after the passage of 300. (300 does not have any impact on the current urban renewal plans – it was passed after they were approved.)

What put SMHO on our radar screen after all these years? It is that Summit Development is taking steps to build a 63-unit low income housing apartment building on the west side of Nevada St just north of Main Street. This building could be 100% occupied by Section 8 low income residents. And, because the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority has awarded the builders an annual $1,240,000 tax credit for 10 years, the building will be required to be used for low income housing for 40 years. But wait, there was another agreement between the parties. Summit Development has guaranteed that the property will remain low income housing for 55 years.

The point is that the housing authority is acting autonomously from the city council–as they are allowed to do. Decisions they make, as an unelected body, can have a real impact on the quality of life for those who are current residents of the city. Residents are helpless – they have no voice in the matter. All of this can and was decided without any council input or approval.

Our elected representatives have no power over the authority they created!