by Bill Knowles
WALSENBURG — Delivering a statement to the city’s finance committee Monday, Feb. 7, Mayor Larry Patrick tied the economic development of Walsenburg to the growth of the Northlands District.
In his statement to the finance committee, which is comprised of the city council, the mayor said the Northlands District is a pot of gold that can propel Walsenburg forward for the next 25 years to 50 years or more. “Since Northlands was annexed four years ago, the city has been realizing approximately $120,000 in sales tax revenue per year. The amount of money we have put out has been minimal.” He told the committee.
In 2011, for example, the Northlands has paid about $22,300 in property tax revenues and about $132,700 in sales tax revenue to the city. The city has advanced about $40,000 in funds to the General Improvement District (GID) which is the unit that deals with funds needed by the Northlands District for improvement. That amounts to nearly a four-to-one return on the investment. The city isn’t out any funds on the venture; revenue has been generated with the investment.
A concern voiced consistently by the Walsenburg City Council has been that the citizens of old Walsenburg will be asked to deal with an increase in taxes to pay for a bond to help finance a $6.2 million sewer line project on top of the current bond for the new treatment plant.
The USDA suggested such a plan in October 2011. However in the November 2011 elections, 16 of the 19 business owners in the Northlands voted to increase their debt limit to around $7.5 million from the previous $1 million to fund the sewer line project.
Most of the funding for the project will come from the USDA in the form of a grant-loan. The proportion of the grant to the loan is 45 percent grant to 55 percent loan. The loan will have a 40-year payback. The city will pay on the loan and the GID will reimburse the city from sales taxes generated in the Northlands.
“The sewer line then brings in additional revenue to the city of Walsenburg: It is a revenue producing project that will help downtown and help all the citizens living in the city by funding projects that we don’t have the money for.” Patrick said. Those other projects include the raw water line project that will run west to Valley Road parallel to Highway 160 which will help spur development along the highway between Walsenburg and La Veta.
The sewer line project will also reduce the amount of augmentation the city is doing in order to be able to sell water to the Northlands District. Right now the city augments on a two-to-one basis the water that is sold to the Northlands.
New infrastructure will also encourage businesses to move into Walsenburg. Along with new businesses in the Northlands, more jobs will be created. In the recent past, the city has experienced the loss of 200 jobs along with a decline in water-sewer and gas revenues amounting to $300,000 to $400,000 per year after the prison closed. Another 35 jobs were lost along with utilities revenue when the Walsenburg Care Center closed. This resulted in people losing their homes because of the impact of the job losses.
Addressing the finance committee, Patrick said, “Each one of you can have a legacy of leaving Walsenburg with hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue every year for many years to come. There are not many things we do that can make that happen. We can’t do that personally because we don’t have the money. But we can do it by providing new businesses, jobs, and increased sales tax revenue which breathe life into our city. Or we can be responsible for taking the city off of life support and letting it continue to die.”
Gary M. Vezzani was elected Walsenburg’s mayor in Tuesday’s special mayoral election/recall vote. Preliminary results announced Tuesday night show that both Nick Vigil in Ward