County, CMC sue over tax plan
The Glenwood Springs Downtown Development Authority may have a fight on its hands.A lawsuit was filed Friday on behalf of Colorado Mountain College and Garfield County, along with two county taxpayers, seeking to abolish the Glenwood Springs Downtown Development Authority’s tax increment financing system.Among other issues, the suit contends that the financing system violates the state constitution. The two taxpayers, Robert Spuhler and Jesse Smith, are affiliated with CMC and Garfield County, respectively.The taxing entities and the taxpayers claim the financing system will take away money that’s rightfully theirs. The lawsuit, which names the city of Glenwood Springs, the Glenwood Springs City Council and the Glenwood Springs Downtown Development Authority as defendants, asks the Ninth District Court to put a stop to the tax increment financing system in Glenwood Springs.Although the suit was officially filed on Friday, CMC spokesman Joe Marquez said the suit could be dropped immediately if the CMC board of directors decides not to pursue it.It was filed so the board would have the opportunity at its next meeting, on April 29, to decide whether to proceed with litigation. The suit was filed on Friday to meet a 30-day filing limit from the date City Council approved the tax increment financing.If attorneys had waited until the April 29 CMC board meeting, it would have been too late.”We are proceeding ahead so we can preserve our options,” Marquez said.Garfield County Commissioner Walt Stowe said the county will follow CMC’s lead in the suit. If the CMC board goes forward with the suit, the county will follow. If CMC drops it, the county will drop it, as well. “The commissioners don’t desire to go it alone,” Stowe said. “We don’t want to be the lone soldiers on it.”He did, however, say he and the other county commissioners agree with the claims in the suit. Tax increment financing, or TIF, is a system of generating money to pay for projects by using a portion of sales tax revenues and increases in property tax revenues.The year leading up to Feb. 28, 2002, was designated as the base year for the TIF.Half of the growth in city sales tax revenues within the downtown district and 100 percent of the rise in property taxes within the district after that year are to be allocated to the DDA.Revenues could pay for ventures such as a new parking structure and other downtown improvement projects.CMC and Garfield County have argued that with the myriad of new projects on the horizon in the downtown core – such as a new hotel and tram at the Two Rivers Plaza – all the revenues would be new and money that would otherwise go toward tax districts such as CMC and Garfield County will be lost to the DDA. The suit includes a long list of claims alleging that the TIF system is unconstitutional and should be stopped. It charges that:-The state statute allowing a DDA is supposed to be used for a blighted area, but downtown Glenwood Springs is not blighted.-The Glenwood Springs DDA “includes vacant lands with known development plans and potential.”-The TIF financing system would use a portion of the property tax revenues produced by the mill levies of Garfield County and CMC. That could force those entities to raise taxes for Garfield County residents who couldn’t vote on the creation of a DDA or the TIF financing system.-Approval of the TIF financing plan by the Glenwood Springs City Council was “invalid, void and an abuse of discretion.”In addition to asking the court to nullify the TIF financing plan, the suit also requests attorney fees to be paid by the defendants. Glenwood Springs city attorney Teresa Williams said the city hasn’t been served with the lawsuit yet, so she couldn’t comment on its contents. She did, however, say she was told of the suit and informed that if CMC plans to move forward with it after the April 29 board meeting, the city will then be served. Glenwood Springs City Councilwoman and council representative to the DDA Jean Martensen said she also is aware of the lawsuit filing, but didn’t know any more about it than Williams. DDA director Bill Evans was out of town Monday and unavailable for comment. On Friday, Garfield County attorney Don DeFord declined to comment on the suit because of its status as “pending litigation.”
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