The town meeting to consider an Urban Renewal Authority (URA), scheduled for next Tuesday, Feb. 21, needs to address a number of questions.
Colorado Statute established the option of a URA for the purpose of restoring blighted urban neighborhoods (Colorado Revised Statutes 31-25-104, 31-25-107). “Blighted” specifically refers to a neighborhood that “substantially impairs or arrests the sound growth of the municipality, retards the provision of housing accommodations, or constitutes an economic or social liability, and is a menace to the public health, safety, morals, or welfare.” If a community determines that such a neighborhood exists, the URA allows local government to raise funds through tax increment financing (TIF) to assist in the renewal project. TIF collects revenues from special districts (e.g. school district, recreation district, etc.) to help fund the new development. If district boards decide to participate, they maintain their base funding but relinquish the increased mill revenues collected from the increased valuation of the development. Those TIF funds may be applied to public works projects such as streets, sidewalks and water lines necessary for the development.
Whether Meeker should establish a URA to facilitate development of the proposed outdoor center raises several questions. On what basis does the town qualify for URA status? What neighborhoods in town are blighted and pose a risk to public health, safety or welfare? It has been suggested in previous meetings that the whole town should be included in the URA. Is the whole town blighted? What kind of message does that send to the tourists the town wants to attract?
The obvious purpose of URA designation is to allow public financing for a project that will be run as a private enterprise. Why have private entrepreneurs not stepped up to provide full funding for the project? Why is public funding necessary? Is the project in fact viable? Two experts in investment banking, writing in these pages, have raised doubts about the economic prospects of the proposed outdoor center, as have many other citizens in the community.
Meeker does not qualify for an Urban Renewal Authority. We are not a blighted community. Quite to the contrary, ours is an exceptionally safe and healthy place to live. That is the result of wonderful community spirit and tradition, and it is due, also, to the dedicated work by town officials and staff who maintain the public works and assure the public safety. The risk of proceeding down the road of URA is that we will build a white elephant, enabled by public funds, and end up with that truly blighted neighborhood.
Bob Dorsett, MD