City Council Meeting 8.09.2016 Study Session on UR and Domestic Violence in Littleton

City Council Study Session          9 August 2016                 Citizen Minutes

This discussion of urban renewal was a lot of rehashing of the same topics. I am not going to try to capture every conversation but only what was new or at least not the same hum drum.   

A study session to study urban renewal (UR) was held once again. Questions were submitted to the Deputy City Manager, Mike Braaten, and he was there to respond to their questions. Some members of council were expecting written responses and commented that not all the questions that were submitted to him were reflected in the materials they had received.

There was a discussion about what properties were in the UR area and what properties were not in the UR area. The plans state that if there is a discrepancy between the maps in the plan and the legal description in the plan the legal description shall prevail.   Doug Clark was making the point that the streets were not included in the plans – in fact they were specifically excluded. The attorney for LIFT and the City on UR matters (yes, both parties have the same attorney!) disagreed with Clark saying that the legal description is intended to show the properties from which the increment is derived; he believed that the right of ways were included in the maps. Clark asked him if he was saying the legal descriptions could be ignored in favor of the text of the urban renewal plans and that prevails over the legal description.  They had to agree that they would never agree.

The plans clearly state that if there is a conflict between the maps and the legal description the legal description shall prevail. But the attorney disputes the meaning of the language.

Braaten brought forward different options.

-Refer the question to the voters –this had been done in three other municipalities (Estes Park, Castle Pines and I didn’t catch the third). In each instance the voters abolished urban renewal.

-They could put a question on the ballot to transfer the authority of UR to the council.

Jerry Valdes asked if they could reduce the size of an UR area without going to the voters. Hoffman said no – they would have to go to the voters if they were doing anything less than a repeal. Valdes asked if Ensor was part of the Santa Fe UR plan and Hoffman said to the extent that it is ag land – according to the Court it is not part of the plan. Valdes asked since it had to be removed from the plan does that have to go to the voters. Hoffman said no since the plan predated 300. (All four plans predate 300 and they predate the elimination of eminent domain, which was a separate ballot question that was passed at the same time as 300.)

Beckman asked if there were problems with the legal descriptions requiring a modification – would that trigger a vote? Hoffman said it would depend on the circumstances. Hoffman was asked if there were any applications to use UR in Littleton and Hoffman said not to his knowledge. Braaten said no. Debbie Brinkman asked if that was unusual and Hoffman said there is usually more activity.

Bill Hopping said it was normal for city councils to give their UR authorities a charge – how to go and get projects – what work we want them to do and it is our bad that we haven’t done that. (Actually projects are supposed to be included and in the plans from other cities that I have read – projects were already conceived.)

Hoffman said it is the UR authority’s job to implement the plans and city council is talking about abolishing UR and that creates an uncertainty.

 

Valdes said LIFT came to them with plans and they were very general – we gave LIFT direction when we approved the plans and to say we didn’t give direction isn’t correct. (Valdes did not support a single UR plan.)

Hopping agreed but said council did not tell LIFT what “they” wanted to see happen. Valdes asked if council was supposed to hold their hands? They have plans – like them or not.

Brinkman said UR is active throughout the metro area but there have been arguments and consternation within our community. There was the County court case and developer’s concerns over 300. People are waiting to see if they want to come. If we keep one or two of the plans she would be surprised if they didn’t see a project come in. It is a tool. (Since the law requires a project to be part of the plan it makes sense that UR is active elsewhere – the projects were approved when the plan was approved. We have four plans without projects. That is a fundamental element of an UR plan that is missing!)

Bruce Beckman said there had been numerous articles about the Littleton voters shutting down UR in Littleton. It is the will of the people and a problem for developers. He did not think they would change their perception of the will of the people.

Clark mentioned the amendments that were made to the plans excluding properties and wondered where there was a copy of a plan that reflects what property is in and what is out. He had tried to get a copy on the LIFT website and was unable to find them.   He asked Jim Rees, Exec Director of LIFT, if there was a plan that showed which properties were in and which ones were out and Rees said he would get one for Clark.

Clark said no one knows what is in the four plans, you can’t tell what is ag land in the Santa Fe area, the city is collecting tax increment and is not distributing it, streets are excluded. He didn’t see how anyone could actually tell what’s in the plans – you can’t Google the document and find it. What is TIFed and what is not? He couldn’t even get the same opinion on the Riverfront Plan – Hoffman said the plan lives forever and Rees said it lives for 25 years.

Hopping asked if UR was good for Littleton? He asked why “you” (I think Clark) want to get rid of it when it appeared that the problems were administrative. He thought there were questions for legal counsel and asked what the real reason is to get rid of UR. He thought it could be used to help the citizens of Littleton.   (Any help UR provides to the citizens is paid for by tax dollars intended for the schools, parks, county and the city itself….and that’s just the property tax increment. The sales tax TIF transfers our sales tax increment revenue to LIFT from our General Fund. If you remember at the last study session Hoffman said that all tax increment belongs to the UR authority – it does not belong to the taxing entity.)

Beckman responded about his issues with LIFT. He had asked for their financials many times with a response that everything is ok rather than the actual financials. He asked where the increment was being placed and he finally got the answer in January. He just couldn’t get answers. Council was just now seeing their financials for the first time and that’s the problem – there’s a lack of trust. The will of the voters was not being recognized and they were not meeting their fuduciary responsibility. Why did a meeting expense amount to $968 and another meeting expense $545? That’s the problem. Rees started to respond to Beckman’s questions and Beckman told him he didn’t want the answers now – in a public meeting surrounded by the public – he wanted the answers months ago when he asked for the information. He said they needed to discuss the advantages of abolishing LIFT.

Clark said it was wishful thinking that the administrative issues could be fixed by the same people responsible for them.   A new executive director and attorney are needed. He did not know how to fix the plans without a modification that impacts TIF and triggers 300.

Phil Cernanec said they have four plan areas – what is ag land and what is not still needs to be resolved.   He said the plans are not flawed. We have significant infrastructure capital needs across the city and to take this off the table without understanding how we are going to pay for them – how are we going to address the infrastructure. He was reluctant to take the use of TIF off the table.

Brinkman said she gets the administrative issues – a number of the public have brought up the issues with the board and personnel. There’s value and benefit provided by UR. If some of the clean up requires a vote – what is wrong with that? Maybe this is an opportunity for us to create a new way and bridge the caverns that have been created. What’s the risk?

Clark said he was philosophically opposed to UR unless it was being used to rehab a slum. (Which is what the law intends. The UR law can’t be used for economic development.) There’s a credibility issue created by LIFT. If we go forward the citizens need to know what they are paying for in four plans that define nothing – in fact the Court said they were “woefully inadequate” – how do you modify the plans and put them in front of the voters? What are you going to tell them you are going to do in the UR areas? If you think you are going to pass a tax increase when you have lost millions on a previous plan – I don’t know how you are going to do it. This is such a mess that backing out is more difficult than abolishment.

Hopping challenged Clark – you said that the sales tax comes out of the citizen’s wallets – it doesn’t. It comes from the purchaser’s wallet.   (I think this is part of the problem – the sales tax would go into the city’s General Fund and not UR if there wasn’t any sales tax increment. So it does take money from the citizens – just not from our wallet but from our General Fund.)  Hopping went on to say that increment could be used to pay for infrastructure. There’s a ditch running under Broadridge that needs to be remedied and if done would be a seed for other development. When the assets are completed it will have an immediate tax coming in that we didn’t have before. (Again, any new taxes (increment) will go to the UR authority. The city will not see the new taxes for 25 years.))

Valdes said he heard the same thing when he was serving on the planning board for 12 years. Referendum 300 wasn’t a vote against urban renewal it was the result of what was done by a majority of council in December 2014. And because of the way it was rushed through – it is so messed up. How many times did we hear that we weren’t going to take money from the school system and now we have an agreement with LPS that LIFT will be refunding money back to the school district. (Technically there is no agreement – an agreement, IMO, requires a signature from each party. It does not exist – there are letters of consent that were sent to the taxing entities but none have been “agreed” to.) So many inconsistencies – I don’t have issues with UR or the LIFT board.  If we want the public to have confidence then let’s put it to the vote of the citizens. The plans are not really plans – they are just suggestions. If a good plan comes out and it goes to a vote of the citizens and the citizens understand the result – not just pie in the sky – the citizens would approve the plan and the developers would know. But to say UR will work miracles for the city ……… I don’t have an issue with putting a vote in front of the citizens.

Beckman said he did not think the Whereas statements accurately reflected the circumstances. It needs to reflect 300 and the impact of the court case.

A second study session will be held. Cernanec wants three items to be on their agenda.

  1. What are alternatives for funding infrastructure?
  2. He wanted the LIFT Board and the Planning Board to attend to refresh council on which plans they wanted to keep active.
  3. How to deal with the administrative issues without abolishing LIFT.

Peggy Cole wants a status of the city’s economic development efforts. That is actually on the same schedule as the next UR study session according to Mike Bratten.

 

Beckman was not in favor of expanding the participants in the next study session. Valdes preferred only council members in attendance and asked if it was just going to be a rehash. Clark agreed with Beckman and Valdes and Cole thought they had already had adequate input.

Mineral Station Area Master Plan (STAMP)

Jocelyn Mills provided the council with an update. There will be another community meeting on August 22 from 4 to 6. The last one did not go so well.

Cernanec wanted to know if the Prince Street Station was on the schedule yet. Mills said yes and the work would begin this Fall.

There was some discussion about the zoning code update. The original committee was now down to 3 members. Clark wanted to know how the members were chosen. Mills was not employed in Littleton at that time and did not know.  Brinkman said a variety of people were invited to serve on the committee and Clark wanted to know who did the inviting.

Domestic Violence

Chief Stephens provided an overview of how the police respond to domestic violence calls. There’s hasn’t been a real increase in the past five years – they respond to 485 to 500 calls a year. In Littleton they complete a case number for every report on domestic violence. This is different than other cities – they only complete a case number if a crime has been committed. They generate a case number on the non-criminal event to create a record for someone to reach out and offer help to the victims.

Judge Feldman, Littleton’s Presiding Judge, wrote up a paper on Domestic Violence Cases in Littleton Municipal Court. It is available on-line and if this topic is of interest to you I would suggest you read it. (I will try to download it to littletonviews.com but don’t know if I will be able to.)

 

 

 

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