Meeker board discusses establishment of Urban Renewal Authority for economic development

MEEKER | In a lengthy meeting Tuesday, Meeker’s Board of Trustees heard from Better City’s Adam Hughes regarding the implementation of an Urban Renewal Authority (URA).
According to Hughes, establishing a URA “is a way in which economic development tools can be put in place to help foster private sector investment in a targeted area.”
In a nutshell, the URA would encompass the entire town, and then a 13-member board would designate strategic areas as Urban Renewal Areas.
Urban Renewal Authorities are common nationwide, and are sometimes called DDAs, or Downtown Development Authorities. The Town of Rangely has had a URA for many years: the Rangely Development Agency.
With a URA in place, the URA board would be able to implement Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to attract private business investors to that area.
“Tax increment financing, or TIF, subsidizes companies by refunding or diverting a portion of their taxes to help finance development in an area or (less frequently) on a project site.
Usually, TIF helps to pay for infrastructure improvements (streets, sewers, parking lots) in the area near a new development. In some states, TIF can also be used for acquiring land (including eminent domain), paying for planning expenses (legal fees, studies, engineering, etc.), demolishing and rehabbing buildings, cleaning up contaminated areas (‘brownfields’), or funding job training programs. Some states allow TIF to directly subsidize private development expenses.” (­goodjobsfirst.org)
Asked whether the URA would be able to exercise eminent domain, Hughes said, “We are not proponents of eminent domain, and believe we should respect property owners’ rights.”
He said in a 130-acre urban renewal project in Ogden, Utah, eminent domain was used three times: for a property where there was no owner of record, and for two properties that were stuck in probate.
Regarding the proposed Outdoor Adventure Center, there are currently no offers “on the table” or specific plans to purchase property for a site.
Asked whether existing businesses would benefit from TIF funds, Hughes said TIF funding is typically formed only for a large commercial project, such as the proposed Outdoor Adventure Center in Meeker.
The Town of Silt used TIF funds to subsidize the infrastructure development needed to bring in a Dollar General store in 2012.
“There’s more to the URA than TIF funding,” said Rio Blanco County Economic Development Director Katelin Cook. “It opens up other funding mechanisms such as grants.”
The next step for the Town in the formation of a URA is to circulate a petition, followed by a public hearing.
In other business, the board heard from engineer Chris Hale regarding how the town determines the order in which street repairs (paving, overlays, chip and seal and water line projects) are made.
The board also heard an update on the proposed water storage project (Wolf Creek Reservoir) and agreed to allocate $10,000 to the next phase of study.