City deal-making may be decided by the voters

City deal-making may be decided by the voters

Rick Langenberg

Maybe the third time is the charm for proponents of enticing future businesses into Woodland Park, or encouraging certain development projects, through a little legal deal-making.

According to Mayor Pro Tem Carrol Harvey, who is heading a new city charter review committee, the idea of future business/development incentives could be decided by the voters in 2016, as a possible change to Woodland Park’s current laws. She said the charter review group had a spirited discussion on the incentives issue during its monthly meeting last week, but didn’t reach any conclusions. “It was a really good discussion,” admitted Harvey.

The committee is debating having a ballot question that would overturn the current anti-incentives law, or offering an alternative question that may provide incentives for certain projects that pave the way for more affordable housing opportunities.

Future incentives is just one of a handful of charter-related ballot issues that the committee may advance to the city council for consideration. Some of the other hot topics include changing the term limits for mayor, based on new state rules, dealing with a better way to handle council and mayoral vacancies, streamlining certain land use rules and providing the council members with some type of financial compensation.

Harvey conceded that the committee is somewhat mixed on the subject of city incentives due to the town’s past history and the sentiments of local voters. During the most recent review of the city charter more than a decade ago, voters strongly rejected a repeal of a local prohibition law against offering financial incentives to private developers.

This prohibition was enacted in the late 1980s, following strong opposition by business owners over a then Wal-Mart project that would have received temporary financial benefits from the city. This anti-incentives law was approved by the voters, following a successful citizens’ initiated petition drive.

But since this anti-incentives amendment was enacted, the issue has generated much debate, with a previous administration getting accused by some government critics of creatively bypassing the intent of the law.

Currently, the only type of incentives, consisting of tax rebates, is done for projects located within the Downtown Development Authority district. Some civic leaders, though, say times have changed and it’s time to revisit the anti-incentive rules, which some see as hampering development activity in Woodland Park. But on the other hand, many current business operators contend that this would create an unfair playing field.

Ultimately, the committee wants to recommend a few ballot issues dealing with proposed alterations and additions to the current city charter, but don’t want to overload the voters. These new prospective charter changes will be voted on during the April 2016 election.

In other Woodland Park government news, City Manager David Buttery announced the successful landing of a $875,000 grant by the state Department of Local Affairs for a new city maintenance facility. This is one of three big projects the city is undertaking, as part of an overall bond package.

Buttery thanked the staff and the council for this award, described as one of the biggest grants the city has received. He believes the city received good marks for its grant application due to the way it marketed its various capital spending projects, including a new aquatic center.

Buttery described the grant proposal as a “team effort.” “This is huge,” said the city manager.