~ by Bob Volpe ~
Two key downtown development and fire/emergency service leaders in Woodland Park have headed to the negotiating table in an effort to craft a fiscal truce.
Jim Ignatius, board chairman of the Northeast Teller County Fire Protection District (NETCFPD), and Tanner Coy, treasurer and board member of the Woodland Park Downtown Development Authority (DDA), met recently to try to find a solution to the financial woes facing the local fire/emergency service department. The long-standing dispute over tax money revenue and conflicts regarding tax increment financing (TIF)
exemption demands is finally resulting in the parties coming together in an attempt to resolve their problems.
Fire and ambulance districts are experiencing an increase in responding to incidents as a result of growth in their service area, while also experiencing a serious financial pinch. They have requested to be exempted from future TIF agreements reached by the DDA, in order to make up for the revenue they must defer to the DDA as a result of
those agreements. These TIF pacts often give businesses certain tax rebate incentives that aren’t permitted by the city government. But in turn, the fire department and other special districts in the DDA area, don’t get all of the extra property tax money they would normally receive.
Both parties expressed concern that NETCFPD services are being stretched to the limit. However, an amicable financial solution has not yet been reached. But both representatives appear interested in continuing their negotiating efforts.
For the DDA, the question is the loss of revenue they would experience if NETCFPD is completely exempted from future TIF agreements, which are used to boost future projects, needed infrastructure and expansions within the DDA district. The DDA’s revenue is derived from property taxes generated from additional capital improvements on projects and commercial building expansions within the DDA district, since it was established. But If the DDA exempts NETCFPD services from future TIF agreements, they face a reduction in revenue of 21 percent, according to Coy.
At this time, the DDA is also facing a tough financial dilemma. They have cut their budget to the bare bones. As a cost saving measure, the DDA is incurring no payroll expenses.
Ignatius, who once served as a DDA board member, and as a former county commissioner, understands the problems in balancing budgets.
In a statement to TMJ, Ignatius said about the meeting, “I think it’s a good start. I think he (Coy) understands that the issue we’re having with the fire department is we’re building more square footage without
more revenue coming in to protect it.”
Ignatius explained that since 2007 the tax base, which is the fire district’s sole source of revenue, has declined.
He said, “There are two issues that I keep trying to point out. One of them is that over the last 10 years the base has gone down and that since commercial property pays more than residential, and all the commercial has been in the DDA district it has had a big effect on our revenue. Also the recession has had a big effect on our revenue. In addition to that there has been more square footage built on the increment (increment taxes are the source of DDA revenue) without getting any dollars for it.”
Coy countered Ignatius’ claim saying, “Fire is getting more money now from DDA properties than it did before the decline in the base.”
Coy’s assertion is backed up by the fact that the business brought in by the DDA has also increased the tax base that fire gets revenue from.
Both leaders haggled over the numbers and have provided documentation that backed up their specific arguments. Their meeting, though, was mostly aimed at the future and how they can reach an agreement that satisfies both entities’ needs.
Ignatius was optimistic about working things out with the DDA in the future, “I think Tanner (Coy) is open to future deals.”
Future tax revenue still in question
Ignatius’ concern is that the DDA will continue to use the 17mils allocated to the fire district as a bargaining chip for future incentives to businesses. That he said would be, “taking revenue from us that wouldn’t happen if the DDA wasn’t there.”
Ignatius proposed that out of the total 80 mils collected from property taxes in the county, the DDA exempt the 17 mils the fire district gets and do whatever they want with the remaining 63mils. He said, “I think there is some nodding of heads when we talk about that.”
At a recent DDA meeting, there was some discussion about perhaps exempting fire and ambulance from TIF agreements on a case by case basis. That concept would take into consideration a project’s impact on those agencies. For instance, a new proposed automobile car wash, approved by the council last week, would be a lower risk to fire and ambulance district than a housing project like Trail Ridge Apartments.
Coy mentioned past TIF agreements that may not have been negotiated well by the previous DDA board in their zeal to attract new business to the city. He wants the current DDA board to focus on making downtown Woodland Park a better place for people, and to use future DDA revenue to improve the health, safety, and welfare of the district.
“Ambulance and fire are not legally set up to make improvements for public safety that can mitigate their risk, but the DDA is.” said Coy.
Reaching Alternate Solutions
Coy mentioned the renovation of the former Bucks building as an example of a situation that may be a part of the solution. “If the DDA had the right mind set and was interested in promoting health, safety, and the welfare of downtown and wanted to mitigate some risk for the fire department, what if they went to them (owner of the Bucks property) and said, ‘Hey look. You’re improving the value of this property, we get some increment value, the base is going to go up too, but we get some revenue. Have you considered a sprinkler system? Would you be willing to do it if we paid half?’”
Under this offer, the fire department would then have a reduced risk as a benefit.
Coy said he wants to explore a variety of ways the DDA and fire/emergency service districts can work together, other than the issue of tax money.
“What are the ways that the DDA can be of benefit to you (the fire district) aside from mil and TIF refunding?” questioned the DDA Treasurer. “We’ll continue to have those talks. We’ll work that out. But what
else can we look at that are ways the DDA can help reduce your exposure in ways that you can’t do? Sprinkler systems? Pedestrian safety improvements? What can we do that will be of value to you?”
According to Coy, Ignatius said he would evaluate these suggestions and come up with a list.
Although no set agreements have been reached, both representatives say that have started on the path toward more solid negotiations between the DDA and the local fire district. This has been one of the most contentious issues the DDA has confronted since it was formed.