County hires firm for first step toward urban renewal

Supervisors say they haven’t yet decided to use tax increment financing

The Greene County supervisors on Thursday voted to hire a law firm for urban renewal and economic development planning, a preliminary step toward using tax increment financing.

The supervisors voted 4-1 to hire Ahlers and Cooney, the more conservative of the two firms they talked with as they learned about urban renewal and TIF.

It was Nathan Overberg of Ahlers and Cooney who suggested the supervisors start with a project less involved than trying to include all the county towns for the purpose of providing incentives for housing developers. That’s the sort of project Bob Josten of Dorsey & Whitney was ready to tackle for the county.

Ahlers & Cooney will assist in identifying a proposed area to designate as an urban renewal area, and then prepare an urban renewal plan that names objectives and specific projects to undertake within that area.

The board of supervisors would need to hold a public hearing at that point. A resolution to approve the urban renewal plan could follow the hearing. Once that resolution is approved, the supervisors could adopt an ordinance designating a tax increment area. Bonds would be sold and the project would be completed.

According to board chair John Muir and auditor Jane Heun, a separate motion wasn’t needed to move forward with urban renewal; hiring a firm to do the work is sufficient.

“Because we hire this firm, and many of us believe we should have a TIF (district), it doesn’t mean that we will have (one). We’ve got to have the law firm hired to get it done right before we TIF. We can vote that we’re going to have a TIF, and we can put that on the agenda and what we’re going to have, but until we have a law firm and go through all the other steps, we aren’t going to have it,” supervisor Pete Bardole said.

The supervisors could, for example, decide not to proceed after the public hearing on the urban renewal plan.

The supervisors don’t have a firm cost for Ahlers and Cooney’s services. They’re paying by the hour, and expect the total to be between $10,000 and $15,000.

The supervisors have had many off-agenda discussions about using TIF and said several times they planned “to make a decision about TIF” on Thursday. In anticipation of that agenda item, GreeneCountyNewsOnline posted an article updating readers on the past discussions with Overberg and Josten.

Muir said on Thursday that the agenda item as it was listed for Thursday, “approve Ahlers & Cooney for urban renewal/ economic development planning,” was correct, “but what we said before probably was misleading.”

During the open forum, Greene County Chamber and Tourism president Mike Holden, in anticipation of the supervisors making a decision, read a letter from the Chamber supporting the use of tax increment financing and the accompanying urban renewal.
Holden also encouraged the supervisors to use Dorsey & Whitney to do the planning work. Dorsey & Whitney works for the city, and Holden said that would make collaboration easier.

Bill Sutton also spoke to the supervisors about the use of tax increment financing. According to Sutton, using tax increment financing takes county taxpayers out of making decisions about how tax revenue is used. He called new tax revenue “a wonderful opportunity for the county….. It frees you up so much,” but continued, “Basically, when you go with a TIF, you make a commitment, and all the others that come to you and want a part of the budget are going to be in the same situation as what they have been in all these years past. You’re not going to be able to expand budgets because you’re going to be working with the same old tax base as before. It makes your job increasingly more difficult when you approve this,” Sutton said.

He said that because the taxable value of wind turbines is phased in over seven years, there will be years the county will need to borrow money to make the payments on the bonds that were sold with the intention to pay them with the tax increment. The increment will not be large enough to make the payment on the debt.

He reminded the supervisors that they’d be paying interest on bonds that they wouldn’t need to pay if they were patient and waited for the new revenue to come in before doing projects.

Bardole answered Sutton, “I look at it as an opportunity. We’re borrowing from future income is what we’re doing, and able to get stuff done now that hopefully expands. That’s the reason I see for doing TIF. Do we want to wait 10 or 20 years to do these projects, or do we want to get them started now so they’re working for us now?”

Sutton answered that without knowing what the return is on the projects designated for tax increment financing, there’s no way to know how that compares to the interest paid on the debt.

Supervisor Tom Contner said many farmers talk with him as he works at Rueter’s in Grand Junction, and that no farmers are in favor of using TIF.

Contner cast the dissenting vote on the motion to hire Ahlers & Cooney. He said he would prefer to work with Bob Josten and Dorsey &Whitney, but he didn’t explain why.

No timeline was provided for Ahlers and Cooney’s work, but Overberg previously estimated about seven months to get through the entire process, including selling bonds to fund a project. That’s the point at which tax increment financing becomes “real.”

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