Columnist: Basalt’s $5M giveaway a dangerous precedent
Holy moly, Batman! They are giving away the farm.
The Basalt Town Council took the extraordinary action last week of promising to share up to $5 million of its sales tax collections in the Willits development with the real estate holding company that owns the commercial center.
In addition to promising millions to Kansas City-based Mariner Real Estate Management, the council, with its 4-2 vote, also approved another 100,000 square feet of commercial and residential development at Willits. And councilors approved a 1 percent “public improvement fee” for all sales by new tenants at Willits. Public improvement fees are sales taxes with a different name, and go directly into the developer’s bank account.
Needless to say, it will be a very, very merry Christmas for the executives at Mariner. But there is nothing for citizens of Basalt to celebrate in this giveaway.
So here’s the cost to Basalt residents:
The food, goods and taxable services they purchase from new businesses at Willits will be more expensive thanks to the public improvement fee.
The community at large will give away $5 million in sales taxes over the coming years to a Kansas City real estate holding firm.
And people who live, work and shop in Willits will have to cope with the added stress on the already inadequate parking and road capacity in the commercial area that comes with another big box filled with retail and offices.
The $5 million giveaway is particularly disturbing, because it in not only about lost revenues: It is about lost opportunity. Money that could have been spent on parks and trails, recreational programs, maintenance and building roads and other infrastructure is instead going into the developer’s bank account.
Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and other communities downstream from the Big Basalt Giveaway will no doubt now have to cope with developers who demand a share of sales taxes or other public support. I expect such developers will threaten to take their plans and their investment dollars elsewhere, perhaps to Basalt, the Land of Developer Milk and Honey, if neighboring communities don’t pony up millions in subsidies.
Thanks for that future, Basalt Town Council.
Back in 2012, Carbondale voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to build a Willits-like mall on the big parcel between Colorado Rocky Mountain School and Highway 133. The development, which promised a new City Market, was approved by our Town Board of Trustees, which had the wisdom to send the issue to the voters.
I was one of the organizers of the campaign against the mall, billed as the Village at Crystal River. Those of us working to overturn the approval had a hefty list of reasons for disposing of the project, but one in particular rang true with nearly every voter we spoke with. That was the 1 percent public improvement fee that would have been tacked on top of the town’s 8.4 percent sales tax.
The public improvement fee would have paid for infrastructure in the project — roads, sewers, sidewalks, a small park and the like. But the idea of having to pay an additional 1 percent to the developer every time we went grocery shopping was offensive to the community.
The problem with public improvement fees, the tax sharing plan that Basalt just approved and other such schemes is that it really is just money being taken from my pocket and put in the developer’s pocket.
I am glad Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt has been outspoken with her concern over the giveaway to Mariner, even if she slipped and violated of Colorado’s open meetings law by sending out an email to other council members expressing her point of view.
There is a second reading on this deal with Mariner coming up before Town Council. I urge the community to show up in force and demand that their elected officials represent their interests and reject this very dangerous precedent.
Allyn Harvey serves on the Carbondale Board of Trustees and owns a public relations and media consulting firm in Carbondale. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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