Rumor Guard – Wrong Again!

Carol Porter posted her comments on urban renewal on Next Door and the City’s Rumor Guard has responded to her post.  (Very interesting that this was done since no one asked a question.)  Following my opinion piece is the post by Ms. Porter and the response so you can see it for yourself.

The Rumor Guard states:

The court order in the Aurora case does hold that an urban renewal plan may not include a date in the future where the TIF clock will start. Thus, a plan may include a TIF provision that commences upon the approval of a plan, or it may choose not to start the TIF clock and subsequently amend the plan through a substantial modification at a later date. Littleton has never tried to start a clock at any date other than when the Plan was approved (or substantially modified).

Let’s take a look at this sentence by sentence.

The court order in the Aurora case does hold that an urban renewal plan may not include a date in the future where the TIF clock will start.

The court in the Aurora case did not say the plan could not include a date in the future where the TIF clock will start.  The Judge interpreted the law to say that, even if the plan includes a future date for TIF,  the TIF clock begins on the date of approval if a TIF provision is included in the plan. In other words, any language in the plan referring to a future date for starting the TIF clock is not valid.  The approval date starts the TIF clock.

Thus, a plan may include a TIF provision that commences upon the approval of a plan, or it may choose not to start the TIF clock and subsequently amend the plan through a substantial modification at a later date.

This is certainly true but has nothing to do with the situation that Ms. Porter wrote about.  The point she was making is that our council does not realize that the TIF clock has started on the entire Santa Fe Urban Renewal Plan area.  Just refer to an email from the mayor I received just yesterday (2.23.2016)

We started the property tax clock on the southern part which is what the county has calculated the baseline on.  North of approximately the RTD parcel has no TIF of any kind started…..Bruce Beckman

The TIF clock has started for both sales and property taxes for 25 years in the area north of the RTD parcel as well as the southern part Mr. Beckman refers to in his email.

This was precisely the issue that Judge Pratt ruled on in the Aurora v Sakdol.  In the Aurora case an urban renewal plan was approved by their council.  The plan contained four different areas.  It was stated in the plan that they wanted to start the TIF clock for two of the areas immediately and the other two areas within the next three years.

Following the ARL, County Assessor, Corbin Sakdol, started the TIF clock on all four areas of the plan.  Aurora took issue – they did not believe that the TIF clock should start on the two areas they stated would begin sometime in the future and they wanted Sakdol to recalculate the increment using only two of the four areas.

Even though the Santa Fe Urban Renewal Plan states that the TIF clock starts on the southern area and the other two areas will begin sometime in the future, according to the law as interpreted by Judge Pratt, the TIF clock started on all three areas the day the plan was approved.

All anyone has to do is ask the County Assessor (as I did) or use common sense.  Increment of over $3,000.00 was created for 2015 – if TIF was only on the open space where no improvements have been made there would be no increment.  The $3,000 increment represents an increase of almost $37,000 in assessed valuation of all the property in the Santa Fe Plan area less the contested agricultural land.

Littleton has never tried to start a clock at any date other than when the Plan was approved (or substantially modified).

Not true if “Littleton” is referring to the city council.  Just two weeks after the voters approved 300 requiring voter approval of urban renewal plans or modifications of, council considered starting the TIF clock on the same area that Mr. Beckman states that there is “no TIF of any kind started.”  They considered starting the TIF clock just a couple of weeks prior to the vote on 300, then tabled the motion, and returned to the motion just after the election.  It was then that council decided not to modify the plan which would have required voter’s approval per the successful passage of 300.

Council did not, and apparently Mr. Beckman still doesn’t, understand that all four urban renewal areas have been TIFed for 25 years for sales and property taxes in their entirety.  This can only be changed by a modification of a plan.

Ms. Porter’s Original Post…….

Q: Recently a decision was made in the case of Aurora v Corbin Sakdol in an urban renewal dispute that parallels circumstances in Littleton regarding our own urban renewal plans. 

The Aurora case was about the start of the tax increment financing (TIF) clock. The Fitzsimmons Urban Renwal plan had designated 4 different TIF areas with area 1 and 4 TIF beginning upon approval of the plan. Areas 2 and 3, according to the plan, would begin at a future date. The County has the authority and responsibility to “divide” the property taxes from the taxing entities and divert the dollars to the urban renewal authority. The County started implementing TIF for all 4 areas and Aurora contested that action referring back to their plan that areas 2 and 3 would begin sometime in the future. 

Judge Pratt sided with the County Assessor and denied the motion filed by Aurora. It boils down to the plain language of the Urban Renwal law – the date the plan is approved is the date TIF starts. 

You might wonder why this is relevant to Littleton. We have 4 urban renewal plans that all provide for the provision of TIF – sales and property taxes for 25 years. 

Our County Assessor has TIFed the entire Santa Fe Urban Renewal area and council and the LIFT board believe that only the south end (Ensor property) has been TIFed. (either they haven’t picked up on the fact that there are numerous properties listed in the County records as being TIFed or they are keeping silent.) 

The citizens that have watched this process unfold have wondered why the entire area has been TIFed. Those making the decisions talk about only the south end being TIFed. Let this skink in, and I will post in the future about why the discrepancy exists and just how bad this is for the Littleton taxpayers.  (Carol Porter, Nextdoor, February 16)

Rumor Guard……………  

A: The court order in the Aurora case does hold that an urban renewal plan may not include a date in the future where the TIF clock will start. Thus, a plan may include a TIF provision that commences upon the approval of a plan, or it may choose not to start the TIF clock and subsequently amend the plan through a substantial modification at a later date. Littleton has never tried to start a clock at any date other than when the Plan was approved (or substantially modified).

City of Littleton Parks, Recreation and Trails Master Plan Survey – Observations by Don Bruns of Littleton

“Don worked nearly 45 years of public service in recreation and scenery management, doing planning, environmental reporting, training, and program administration.  Among the things that made his job meaningfully worthwhile was being able to engage with pragmatic-minded recreation, leisure and behavioral scientists to help advance state-of-the-art recreation science beyond facility and program management that simply accommodates “fun and games.”  Here in the US, and sometimes internationally, Don had the privilege of helping several parks and recreation agencies and organizations learn how to optimize public recreation benefits by assessing the kinds of benefits that people want from open-space, wild lands and parklands, and then structuring both setting and service environments on which positive outcomes depend to match up with the desires of publics being served.”

 

Observations:

City of Littleton Parks, Recreation and Trails Master Plan Survey

There are at least four primary levels at which recreation planning occurs:

1 – Strategic or Master Planning

2 – Land Use or Resource Allocation Planning

3 – Project Plans (e.g., parks, greenways, playgrounds, etc.)

4 – Site Plans

The subject survey title indicates that its intent is to inform master plan development. Survey content however omits several critically important elements needed to ensure that study results adequately inform all of elements of recreation production to ensure that the resulting plan is both responsive to the desires of those being served and that it will ensure positive re-creating results to affected individuals, households and communities (socially and economically), and the environment.

The survey appears to focus primarily on programs and facilities. The following simplified schematic illustrates where those components fit relative other recreation product components. These are, in turn, outlined above an essential context for both useable customer assessments and responsive parkland/open space management and recreation service delivery.

Optimizing Parks, Open Space & Recreation Benefits-2

 

 

The above schematic illustrates the implications of Aldo Leopold’s well-known dictum, applied to Parks, Recreation and Trails Management: “The first rule of intelligent tinkering is to save all the pieces.”

  1. Implications for how recreation products are produced and their benefits realized are several:

 

  • Getting to the goal of parks and recreation management—the achievement of desired palettes of beneficial recreation outcomes (to both affected participants and non-participants alike)—providers must know not only what those end results are but also the setting character and service delivery conditions on which they depend.
  • Those cause-and-effect interrelationships cannot be determined without consulting with each of the discrete affected publics being served, because:
  1. a) Planners cannot know these cause-and-effect interrelationships without assessing what those they intend to serve believe they are, and
  1. b) There are multiple desires for some complementary and some conflicting end-results (and therefore differing setting and service environments on which they depend) in each parkland, open-space and recreation area.
  • Strategic or master planning may not need to have assessment results for all of these components for every single parkland and open-space attraction (because public recreation preferences are strongly place-based), but neither can it simply focus on programs and facilities as if those were the only recreation product components valued by the people being served.
  • There must instead be an understanding of:
  1. a) What both residents and visitors to be served want out of park and open space properties:

i – For both on-site and off-site use and enjoyment (i.e., beneficial outcomes) and

ii – For the negative end-results (i.e., adverse outcomes) they want to avoid.

  1. b) Character conditions of both park and open-space settings and the service delivery systems on which they depend (because some desired outcomes are setting dependent, others service dependent and some both).
  • The scope of master planning recreation service delivery must therefore be broader than services provided by the managing entities of parks and open-space properties (including trails) because affected participants and non-participants also depend on other service delivery providers to achieve their desired benefits and to avoid adverse impacts.
  1. Implications of the Littleton Parks, Recreation and Trails Master Plan Survey structure are several:
  • The survey’s response index for listed recreation facilities and programs addresses only two dimensions: a) degree of importance respondents wanted to assign and b) degree to which respondents believe the needs of Littleton (never defined) are being met.
  • Although the survey mentions Littleton’s needs, it makes no attempt to identify what those are in terms of specific kinds of recreation outcomes: to individuals, to households and communities, to economies, and to the environment. This is very significant.
  • Equally so is the survey’s omission of:
  1. a) Respondent desires for any physical (bio and cultural), social and administrative setting character attributes of the city’s various parkland and open-space properties.
  1. b) Respondent desires for other important service attributes (besides facilities and programs, including the provision and maintenance of desired parkland and open-space character) of the city’s recreation and open-space amenities were not assessed.
  • The survey does not appear to assess the specific kinds of re-creating outcomes desired by participants and non-participants alike from the city’s various parkland and open-space properties.
  • In a nationwide study, the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) demonstrated that Americans significantly benefit from parks in their community, even if they do not use them. Nonetheless, the survey makes no effort to:
  1. a) Identify what those benefits are—which from anecdotal reports—to be substantial for Littleton’s citizens as well as for visitors.
  1. b) Differentiate between the responses of users and non-users.
  1. c) Address the ways that parkland and open-space benefits users and non-users absent any particular services and/or programs. This is very important because significant benefits are being provided and achieved irrespective of any programs or facilities by virtue of the aesthetic and cultural characteristics of the cities various parkland and open-space properties. If this is true, then SSP&R must also be managing the parkland and open-space characteristics: physically (both bio and cultural), socially and administratively.
  • The survey appears to ignore assessing public desires for recreation product components related to any of the three priorities that the NRPA study lists for local park and recreation agencies:
  1. a) Conservation
  2. b) Health and Wellness
  3. c) Social Equity
  • In order to meet these priorities, it would appear that master planners would need to know both participant and non-participant citizen and visitor desires for:
  1. a) Recreation benefits associated with each of the three priorities,
  1. b) Character qualities of the physical, social and administrative setting attributes on which those benefits depend and
  1. c) Character of the various recreation services (i.e., facilities, programs, and park/open-space management) on which those benefits depend—and to what degree.
  • The four geographic assessment areas of the city included in the survey, apparently for the purpose of disaggregating study results, are insufficient to capture the socio-demographic diversity of Littleton residents because the people within each do not share a similar set of recreation desires and preferences.
  • Similarly, state-of-the-art recreation science makes it highly unlikely that public recreation product desires are the same:
  1. a) Between and among participants and non-participants
  2. b) Between and among residents and non-residents, and
  3. c) For each of the city’s various kinds of parkland, open-space, and other recreation properties.

Yet the survey does not appear to be structured in a way that enables respondents to indicate for which of these variables they are responding.

  • That deficiency is critically important because assessment context means everything. By failing to differentiate by these and other important socio-demographic variables, this survey’s collapsed assessment context—like others that do the same thing—puts very dissimilar respondents into single categories and ends up painting an entirely different picture than what actually exists.
  • If the economic benefits of Littleton’s various parkland and open-space attractions are to be addressed in the master planning process, it appears that the survey should also have been administered to visitors who benefit from them (e.g., substantial benefits are achieved by visiting cyclists on the Mary Carter Greenway, and substantial benefits could be achieved by other visitors if access were to be provided to the city’s outstanding flat-water recreation resources).

Don Bruns

1-27-16

City Council Study Session – Citizen Minutes – 26 January 2016

City Council Study Session               January 26, 2016                  Citizen Minutes

South Suburban and Council held a joint session.

From the Council packet:

The purpose of the joint study session is for city council and the SSPR Board to hear an initial report from the consultant Continue reading

Citizen Minutes – Council Study Session 2.9.2016 – Mineral Light Rail Station Plan, Streetscape Plan, and Ensor Property Update

City Council Study Session                                                               9 February 2016                                Citizen Minutes

Bill Hopping was absent.

Three topics were on the agenda –

Mineral Area Station Master Plan

Streetscape Plan for Littleton Blvd/Main Street

Ensor Update Continue reading

Citizen Minutes – Littleton City Council Regular Meeting 2 February 2016

Littleton City Council Regular Meeting 2 February 2016
Citizen Minutes

All members present. Continue reading

Aurora Sues County Assessor – Court Decides in Favor of the County – Mirrors Littleton with Regard to TIF

On Jan. 19, 2016 a decision was made in the case of Aurora v Corbin Sakdol in an urban renewal dispute that parallels circumstances in Littleton regarding our own urban renewal plans. Continue reading

Littleton’s Rumor Guard is False

I know this stuff makes your eyes glaze over – mine used to do the same but I stuck with it.  I have met with County officials and State officials in an effort to understand the urban renewal law (31.25.101).  Hopefully you will take the time to read and understand this post because Urban Renewal and TIF impacts the City, our schools and parks, and the County for 25 years by taking tax dollars from them.  But, if you can’t stick with it – I put the Bottom Line up front for you.

For those that like to get to the bottom-line first………….

Bottom Line: Littleton has four urban renewal areas that were approved by a majority of city council. Each plan included the provision for both property and sales tax TIF for 25 years. That means that urban renewal will reap the increment of all sales tax and property taxes for the next 25 years unless the council does something to correct the situation.

Dividing the property taxes is the responsibility of the County and dividing the sales tax is the responsibility of our city government.

The increment being diverted from LPS for 2015 is $169,330 for the first year and the increment will continue to move upwards. This money cannot be refunded to LPS because the law states that the money in the “special fund” can only be used to pay principal, premiums, and interest on debt incurred to finance projects. (Can also be used to pay for county infrastructure in addition to the debt.) The only debt that LIFT has is to the taxpayers of Littleton. Littleton property tax increment and possible sales tax increment that should be in our General Fund  will be deposited into LIFT’s special fund to pay back their debt to Littleton with those same tax dollars!

Want more detail, please read on.

The City of Littleton has something called “Rumor Guard” on their website. When it comes to urban renewal the city is not the place to go to look for the truth and real understanding of the urban renewal law. In April 2014 Michael Penny and I met. He was not aware that the tax increment financing (TIF) commenced with the approval of the urban renewal plans. Once I convinced him he was wrong he said he would have to go and talk to the County. I replied that the County can’t do anything but follow the law which states that the increment, when collected, has to be deposited into the special fund of the urban renewal authority to pay the premium, principal or interest on debt incurred in the development of an urban renewal project or additional county infrastructure.

Penny does not understand that the language in the urban renewal plans does not trump the state law.  The urban renewal law is a matter of statewide concern and home rule cannot trump the law. And, the law states that the TIF effective date is the date the plan is approved.

So, Rumor Guard to Truth Squad!

Q: Is the city taking all of the tax increment for the next 25 years which is being generated from the other taxing districts (such as Arapahoe County, South Suburban Parks and Recreation, and Littleton Public Schools) within the 4 urban renewal plan boundaries?
A: Rumor: The city is a partner in development with the other taxing entities within Littleton. The city’s partners primarily include Arapahoe County, the Littleton Public School District (LPS), South Suburban Parks and Recreation District (SSPR) and the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District

Truth: To characterize urban renewal tax increment financing (TIF) as a partnership with the other taxing entities is misleading. The urban renewal law allows the urban renewal authority, LIFT in Littleton, to take tax dollars intended to go to the other taxing entities that include Littleton Public Schools, South Suburban, Arapahoe County, Urban Drainage and the City of Littleton. The taxing entities do not have a choice in the matter – the urban renewal law gives LIFT the police powers to enforce the law.

Rumor: The city council has set policies that the city will not take any revenue away from our taxing partners without their consent. Before the city can use any partner revenues, our taxing partners must first be in the full support and approve of the time frame and the amount of their revenue proposed to be used for the development.

Truth: The city council passed Resolution 88 stating their desire not to take tax dollars from the other taxing entities but their resolution does not override the language of the state law. The law states that TIF goes into effect the day the plan is approved if the plan contains the provision for property tax, sales tax, or both. The bottom line is there are four urban renewal areas in Littleton and all have been TIFed for both property and sales tax for 25 years. It is not what the council intended to do but it is what they did do.  (31.25.107(9)(a).  The “Rumor Guard” states that “before the city can use any partner revenues.”  This is another misleading statement – it is not the city that will be using the tax increment but LIFT, our urban renewal authority.  

Rumor: The city (in partnership with LIFT, the city’s urban renewal authority) is putting intergovernmental agreements in place with SSPR and LPS which provide for the legal mechanism for the city to return any revenues collected back to SSPR and LPS. We are currently in negotiations with the county to return any county tax increment revenue back to the county. Simply said — the city is not desirous of keeping any of the increment.

Truth: The city is not the entity to negotiate with the other taxing entities. LIFT is a separate body politic from the council and the council cannot negotiate on their behalf. This subject has not been discussed at any of the LIFT meetings to date.

Once the TIF has been approved the county has the responsibility to “divide” the taxes and deposit the TIF increment into the “special fund” of the authority upon the collection of the taxes. Furthermore, the law states very clearly that the increment in the special fund can only be spent on the payment of premium, principal and interest on debt incurred developing a project. There is one other approved expenditure in the law – additional county infrastructure.   (31-25.107(9)(a)(II).

 There has not been any agreement made with South Suburban or LPS to refund the full amount of TIF and the County has said no.

The city has the same obligation to deposit sales tax increment, upon collection, into the special fund of LIFT. (31.25.107(9)(a)

Restated: The city is a partner in development with the other taxing entities within Littleton. The council has made policy statements that we are not taking any revenue away from our taxing partners until a development occurs and then, and only then, with their full support and approval; i.e., it would very likely not be 100 percent of the increment and be nowhere near a 25-year span.

Restated:   The city manager and the majority of council did not understand the urban renewal law and the implications of including TIF in the plans they approved.

Mike Kerrigan, at the Department of Property Taxation, states it thus:

“The division does not agree that the provisions of a plan {(31.25.107(8)} prevail over the statutory provisions of 31.25.107(9).” 

The Assessor’s Research Library (ARL) instructs the county assessor to the timing of TIF. It states that the “base value is based on the effective date of the approval of the plan containing the TIF provision…the effective date of the approval of such plan establishes the beginning of the 25 year period.” In other words, if a plan includes the TIF provision the 25-year period starts the day the plan is approved.  The base for sales tax increment has yet to be determined by Littleton.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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