The Woodland Park Downtown Development Authority/City Council entertainment show has reached a mini-conclusion.
Following another lively discussion, the council last week by a 6-1 vote agreed on a request by the DDA board to repay the city of Woodland Park regarding a previous significant $1 million-plus loan through a 10-year plan, with a $70,000 scheduled payment over the next 14 months. This agreement sets the timetable for regular annual payments for an approximate $1.15 million loan.
Mayor Pro Tem Carrol Harvey, a staunch critic of this proposed arrangement, cast the dissenting tally.
She staunchly argued that the DDA, through its tax increment financing revenue, would now have a fiscal opportunity to get a loan from the bank and to pay the city back in one lump sum, and then make regular bond payments. With the city’s current financial situation, the mayor pro tem contended that the town could use the money to boost its emergency reserves that are lingering at a record low (see related story).
Harvey described the current repayment plan as unacceptable, along with the DDA’s refusal to pay back the city for a loan it incurred in 2007 for a previous development plan that never materialized. She suggested that no other group could get this type of extended leeway from the government. “I don’t know why this happened?” questioned Harvey, in criticizing the DDA’s refusal to repay the city.
Based on the DDA’s funding situation, the mayor pro tem stated that she couldn’t understand why it isn’t viable for the group to take out a loan and pay back the city right now. She believes the city should demand its money.
Harvey had a slight ally in Mayor Neil Levy. But the mayor agreed with the compromise, admitting it’s time to bring this issue to a closure. “This is not my first choice,” said the mayor, in stating that he believes the DDA could have easily secured a loan or bond payment arrangement. At the same time, he expressed confidence in the prudent financial approach taken by the DDA. “We appreciate the hard work,” said the mayor. “I am satisfied with this. I see things being pretty positive.”
Merry Jo Larsen, the chairperson of the DDA board, maintained that the group would do everything it could to make good on its commitment to repay the city. “We will pay you back as quickly as possible,” said Larsen.
She reminded the council that the DDA represents the downtown businesses, who have much invested in this decision. According to Larsen, the DDA board is taking major efforts to cut costs and is now a “working board,” with no personnel expenses. “We are all volunteers,” stressed Larsen.
Unrealistic Development Pursuits
The discussion also raised questions about the circumstances surrounding the loan, and why it occurred in the first place.
“It was a dream,” blasted Councilman Noel Sawyer, who serves on the DDA board, in describing the previous development plans for Woodland Station. He stated that these plans were out-of-touch with reality and the city should assume some responsibility for the loan debacle.
DDA Treasurer Tanner Coy, president of Tweeds Fine Furnishings, echoed similar sentiments. “This money (for the loan) was an investment by the city,” said Coy. And unfortunately, he noted that those development plans “went belly-up.” He argued that the current DDA board shouldn’t be forced to pay the price of previous decisions, orchestrated by city development leaders at the time.
Moreover, he described attempts to get the DDA to assume a loan or bond, with extra interest payments, as ridiculous. “We need to be careful with our cash flow,” he explained, in supporting a graduated long-term loan repayment plan by the DDA.
However, City Manager David Buttery described this portrait of the previous development bid as not quite accurate, especially when it came to pointing fingers at the city. In hindsight, he admitted this loan should not have occurred.
But Buttery cited the Great Recession of 2008 and the plunging economy as the big culprits in de-railing this previous development project. “They just walked away,” said Buttery, in describing the actions of two previous developers of the Woodland Station project. He argued that this outcome wasn’t a byproduct of faulty plans, or decisions made by city development officials. “It was not a city-directed plan,” stated the city manager, in describing the previous development pursuit at Woodland Station.
Most council members admitted they were getting tired of the continual debate and opted to accept the DDA repayment plan. Councilman John Schafer jokingly stated that he enjoyed hearing from Coy and Larsen on a regular basis at every council meeting, but it’s time to bring the loan decision to a closure. “I think we ought to get on with this,” said Schafer.
In fact, for several months, DDA topics have dominated discussion at every council meeting.
This repayment plan will become official when the council adopts its 2017 budget. Under this deal, the DDA must make a $5,000 payment by January and then pay the city $65,000 in 2017.