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Walsenburg City Council sets up Urban Renewal Authority

WALSENBURG — The Walsenburg City Council Tuesday night voted unanimously to establish an Urban Renewal Authority which will encompass mainly the downtown and Seventh Street business districts. The six to zero vote came after a 90-plus minute public hearing which featured an overview of the resolutions involved and the urban renewal plan for the Central Walsenburg Urban Renewal Project presented by attorney Paul Benedetti, who did the bulk of the work without cost to the municipality. Benedetti, who grew up and went to high school in Walsenburg, donated his expertise as a way of giving back to the community. Council chambers were packed with interested citizens and business owners who own property within the boundaries of the affected area. Council heard from about ten individuals, some more than once, who shared their views, questions and concerns about the city’s latest economic development plan. The URA boundaries outlined in the plan are from the Spanish Peaks Library south to the 10th St. bridge, St. Mary’s School complex on E Seventh, west to the city limits, and includes some

areas from west Fifth to west Eighth Street. Setting up a URA offers tax increment financing for future development and opens up avenues for potential state and federal grants for rehabilitation and development that are not necessarily currently open to the city, said Walsenburg Administrator David Johnston. An Urban Renewal Authority may also open up avenues for low interest loans to existing and start up businesses within the URA boundaries said Johnston. One of the points Benedetti and the city tried to drive home to those in the audience was the fact participation in URA projects is completely voluntary. “This plan will be implemented as part of a comprehensive program to eliminate and prevent blight in the urban renewal area,” the plan says in section 5.0. It goes on to explain, “The Authority and the City, with the cooperation of private enterprise and other public bodies, will undertake a program to eliminate the conditions of blight identified in the Conditions Survey while implementing the (city’s) Comprehensive Plan.” The overall plan, and accompanying resolutions (2015 R 32 and 2015 R 33) were approved with a slight wording change in the plan to make one section clearer that participation is voluntary not mandatory. While the plan explains project financing and defines terminology used in the document, it does not spell out any kind of definite course of action the city/authority has in place for the immediate future. Establishment of the 25-year long URA will not increase taxes for any residents or businesses in the city. Funding outside of grants will come from Tax Increment Financing (TIF). Johnston said by example, if a property is valued at $1,000 and then valuation increases in the next assessment cycle to $1,200, the city would receive the benefit of the higher tax assesment in due course, but the URA special fund would benefit from the $200 higher assessment with a portion going into the tax increment fund for the URA. “This is a slow process, Johnston said,” it took La Junta 20 of its URA’s 25 year TIF to show any real build up.” The TIF is just another tool in the tool box for the URA, Johnston said. Walsenburg had a URA in the 1970s which helped finance the Loma Park residential neighborhood. The full plan is available at city hall for review by any individual. In other business the city council voted five to one to select the La Veta Signature as the newspaper of record for the City of Walsenburg. Clint Boehler cast the lone ‘no’ vote and Mayor Pro Tem Craig Lessar did not attend the meeting. Council unanimously approved liquor license renewals for Crown Lanes and the Starlite Inn.

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