Year after lawsuit’s end, TIF money release finally near
Glenwood Springs and Garfield County officials reportedly have reached an agreement for the county to finally release downtown improvement funds, nearly a year after the city prevailed in a lawsuit and four years after that suit was filed.City officials say the release of the funds is imminent. The city and county have completed negotiations and are just awaiting a court order.”There’s no conflict anymore. There’s nothing to be resolved; it’s just process now,” city manager Jeff Hecksel said.The delay over the money’s release has frustrated city officials, coming on top of years of battling in court with the county and Colorado Mountain College over the legality of the so-called tax increment financing (TIF) program for funding downtown capital improvements.”We won at every level and they keep throwing roadblocks up,” said City Council member Joe O’Donnell.Under the TIF plan, the city will collect all new tax revenues created by growth in the tax base downtown over 25 years. State law allows TIF funding, but CMC and the county contend the city wasn’t properly following the law. They sued in 2002, arguing that the financing plan would deprive them of nearly $4 million in tax revenues.The city won a summary judgment in the case in district court in 2003, a state appeals court again sided with the city in 2005, and last August the Colorado Supreme Court refused to hear the county and college’s appeal of the case.By that time, the legal proceedings had cost CMC an estimated $100,000 in outside legal fees, and the city at least $70,000. Don DeFord, the staff attorney for the county, represented the county in the case.The latest delay involved county Treasurer Georgia Chamberlain’s concerns over releasing the money. She has declined to comment on the nature of her concerns, referring questions to Charles Willman, her attorney in the case, who has failed to return calls for comment.Chamberlain this week did say the TIF fund now stands at $571,358, and is being held in a separate, interest-bearing account.Chamberlain reportedly has maintained she can’t release the funds without a court order, and also is worried about liability because state law suggests that by releasing the money she is attesting that the city is complying with TIF rules, something she is unable to do.Hecksel said his understanding of the agreement to release the funds is that the city will be put on notice that it must comply with state law.”Well, OK, we know we have to comply with the state law,” he said.He said it also appears that the city will be required under the agreement to obligate the funds for a specific purpose. DeFord said that goes back to the heart of the dispute in the lawsuit. The county and CMC argued the city was breaking the law by collecting the funds without approving downtown projects to spend them on.The city’s Downtown Development Authority board met this week, and apparently will have no trouble coming up with potential ways to obligate the funds. It came up with a wish list (see box) that Hecksel estimated could cost a total of roughly $20 million, or maybe more. Hecksel said he has heard estimates that the TIF program could generate anywhere from $13 million to $17 million over its life span.Once the board prioritizes its wish list, public comment will be sought before any final decisions are made.
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