Urban Renewal Quiz

I prepared an Urban Renewal Quiz for the Community Conversation with Mayor Beckman on April 14, 2016.  As stated when I handed out the quiz, this is based on my observations of UR in Littleton and the information I have gathered over the past two years talking with the County Assessor and the Division of Property Taxation at the state level.  And, of course, by attending city council and LIFT meetings.

There was such a positive response to the “quiz” that I was asked to post on the Blog.  Here it is!  Let me know how you did!

300 and Littleton’s Urban Renewal Quiz                           April 14, 2016

  1. 300 was passed March 3, 2015, therefore there are no urban renewal plans in Littleton.

FALSE.   All four urban renewal plans were in existence when the special election on March 3, 2015 took place. The four plans were not affected by the election and will not be unless the plans are modified.

  1. 300 requires voter ratification of any modification of an urban renewal plan.

TRUE. According to 300 any modification of an urban renewal plan that includes the use of tax increment financing, condemnation, eminent domain or tax revenue or cost sharing has to be ratified by the voters in Littleton.

  1. Council is required to seek voter ratification if any of the urban renewal plans are changed after the March 3, 2016 election.

TRUE. But they didn’t! Just two weeks after the passage of Initiative 300 council modified the Santa Fe Urban Renewal Plan by excluding specific properties. Council determined that they did not have to get voter approval of the modification. No other reason was offered.

  1. An urban renewal plan has to be written before it can be approved by the urban renewal authority; LIFT.

FALSE. Although the law doesn’t address this question directly it would appear to some that with all the requirements outlined in the law as being part of an urban renewal plan that a plan would have to be written in order to be a plan. But, LIFT was in such a hurry to get plans to the city council prior to the passage of 300 that they actually approved plans before they were written.

  1. An urban renewal plan can be changed by city staff after it has been approved by LIFT and the Planning Board but before it gets to city council for approval.

TRUE. Language about tax increment financing (Section 6.12) was modified after the planning board approved the Santa Fe and Columbine Square plans resulting in council approving a plan that had been amended without the approval of either LIFT or the planning board. When asked, Jim Rees, Exec Director of LIFT, said it happens all the time!

  1. All urban renewal plans are plans for projects. Plans should address several different factors including but not limited to land acquisition, demolition and removal of structures, rehab, zoning and planning changes, land uses and densities.

TRUE. The law is very clear that plans are for an urban renewal project. Plans are to include an indication of “land acquisition, demolition and removal of structures, redevelopment, improvements, and rehabilitation as may be proposed to be carried out in the urban renewal area, zoning and planning changes, if any, land uses, maximum densities, building requirements, and the plan’s relationship to the definite local objectives respecting appropriate land uses, improved traffic, public transportation, public utilities, recreational and community facilities, and other public improvements.” CRS 31-25-103(9)

Not one of Littleton’s four plans has a project defined in such terms as required by the urban renewal law. In fact, city manager Michael Penny said he has no interest in any projects other than the Ensor property and the Dish Network property. Councilperson Brinkman said she did not expect any urban renewal projects to come forward. (Wolhurst forum, 2015) So you have to ask yourself why do we have four urban renewal plans?

  1. Urban renewal authorities can tax?

FALSE. Urban renewal authorities cannot raise revenue by establishing a tax.

  1. Urban renewal uses tax increment financing (TIF) to fund projects. This tax scheme diverts tax dollars intended for the schools, parks, city, and county to urban renewal.

TRUE. Tax increment financing (TIF) funds urban renewal projects. If done properly, that TIF would be the result of an urban renewal project. However, the law allows UR to divert tax increment that is not the result of urban renewal.

  1. Tax increment financing can run up to 25 years.

TRUE. The law was written so a project would be included in a plan and the area boundaries were to be “narrowly defined.” The idea is that a project may need some financial help to make the project viable. TIF is the source of the revenue to fund the project. Since Littleton has no projects in any of the four plans the TIF clock was set for 25 years.

  1. Has the TIF “clock” started – in other words has the county diverted any money from the taxing entities to LIFT?

 

TRUE. The TIF clock has started on all four areas with the exception of the ag land that is in dispute. Once the court decides whether or not it is legal to include the ag land it may or may not be TIFed. The county has calculated the estimated TIF for all four areas (Columbine Square is the only area that has not TIF projected) and the increment is beginning to be diverted to LIFT.

11.  The city has established the base for sales tax increment?

FALSE. The city is responsible for establishing the base for sales tax increment but has not done so to date. The sales tax increment has been collected but not diverted in spite of the law that states it “shall be allocated to and, when collected, paid into a special fund of the authority.” But the base has to be established first and that has not been done.

  1. The city is suing the county over the inclusion of agricultural land in the Santa Fe Urban Renewal area.

TRUE. The urban renewal law provides the county assessor the right to challenge the inclusion of agricultural land in an urban renewal area within 30 days of the plan being approved. The law was amended in 2010 to make it virtually impossible to include ag land in an urban renewal plan and certain conditions have to be met in order to allow for the inclusion. The county assessor disallowed the inclusion and the city decided to sue the county. The law, when amended in 2010, unfortunately used two different conjunctions in two different sets of requirements making the dispute between the city and the county in need of a court decision.

  1. LIFT board members are term limited.

FALSE. Members serve for 5-year terms but there are no term limits. Until recently the entire LIFT board was made up of people that had served on the board for years. In other words, the same people that brought us Littleton River Front Authority in the 1980s were still on the board. In fact, they blighted the very same property in 2014 that was blighted in 1981; and for some of the same reasons!

  1. LIFT is a body politic and cannot be interfered with by any governing body other than the general assembly.

TRUE. The urban renewal authority has the police powers that a city council has. They can sue, be sued, sell bonds, buy property, sell property, condemn, take property from a private property owner and sell to another private party as long as the requirements for doing so in the law are followed. The LIFT board has to go to council for the approval of the plans – once approved it is LIFT’s responsibility to implement the plans. LIFT will also have to get council’s approval for any taking of personal property.

15.  LIFT can be abolished by a simple majority vote of the council.

TRUE. A simple majority has to approve an ordinance to abolish LIFT. LIFT, by law has a minimum of six months to make the necessary financial arrangements for outstanding indebtedness.

  1. There is another way for LIFT to be abolished?

TRUE. Citizens can, through the initiative process, abolish LIFT.

  1. Michael Penny started down the path of urban renewal because he thought there were areas of blight and slum that threatened the safety, health, welfare and morals of the citizens of Littleton as called out in the UR law.

FALSE. Michael Penny is on record as saying the only two places he sees UR used are Dish (Echo Star at Santa Fe and Bowles) and Ensor (Mineral and Santa Fe) and he sees only two benefits of UR.

  • You can bond without going to a vote of the people, and
  • You can take other entities increment and use it for yourself. Other than that he said he could not care less about UR.
  1. LIFT drew the boundaries for the four urban renewal plans.

FALSE. Michael Penny drew the boundaries. The reasons for the boundaries, according to Penny, is because the staff and his predecessor, didn’t give “crap” about Littleton’s deferred maintenance cost. He saw it as a survey – two birds with one stone. Because, he got what he needed to be able to go to “my city council” and say this is the quality of our infrastructure in these areas. He said he needed the conditions survey to be able to stand up in front of the council and say – you need to invest in your community – get your damn priorities straight.

  1. Urban Renewal does not raise your property taxes.

FALSE. Everyone’s taxes are higher because the increment value is not part of the assessed value when the mill levy is determined.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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