The Littleton Public Schools Board of Education made a decision Oct. 23 that seems to render moot a main argument of people opposed to the city's urban-renewal efforts.
Diane Doney, the district's chief financial officer, put it simply: “The district never loses tax revenue.”
The board agreed with her in a 4-1 vote, a rarity for a normally united board. Kelly Perez cast the lone nay vote.
Even some opposed to the activities of Littleton Invests for Tomorrow, the city's urban-renewal authority, complimented the district's negotiating skills.
“I understand this is a good deal,” said Carol Brzeczek, a former LPS board member herself.
LPS is weighing in because one of those laws requires all taxing entities to agree to include agricultural property, like the 111-acre Ensor property at Mineral Avenue and Santa Fe Drive, in a URA. The Ensor family has been trying unsuccessfully to sell the largest remaining undeveloped site in Littleton for years.
Opponents like Brzeczek allege that LIFT's use of tax-increment financing, or TIF, robs LPS and other entities of money.
“Taking tax dollars away from the school district, South Suburban Parks and Recreation, Arapahoe County, and the city in order to increase the profits of developers will not make Littleton thrive,” they write in a document posted on www.littletonviews.wordpress.com. “It will only raise taxes.”
Not so, says Doney.
The way TIF works is that property owners will be able to approach LIFT with specific redevelopment projects and reasons why they can't happen without financial assistance from the authority. If the board members are persuaded, they can enter into an agreement that whatever new taxes are generated from the property, above and beyond what was coming in before the urban-renewal project, get divided between the authority and the property owner for 25 years. The property owner's share must be spent on public improvements like roads, drainage, sewer and sidewalks — major expenditures that often impede development.
Normally, that would knock LPS out of the loop. But because of the agricultural piece, all the taxing districts had a bargaining tool to negotiate. And they're taking advantage of it. South Suburban Parks and Recreation is in the process of reviewing its own agreement.
LPS gets tax money two ways: from property taxes via the state's per-pupil funding, and from the mill levy that voters approve. The agreement with LIFT allows the school district to keep the mill-levy portion of TIF revenue from all four urban-renewal areas that council is expected to approve in the coming weeks.
“So we are guaranteeing that a little bit more than 50 percent of the growth is staying with us,” said board member Carrie Warren-Gully.
The state, however, will see no increase in property taxes on those properties until after the 25 years are up.
“I think it's immoral that it's draining money throughout the state,” said Brzeczek.
Some board members had some sympathy for the argument, but noted their responsibility is to LPS.
“I appreciate the comments,” said Jack Reutzel. “I think they are cogent. But I think they need to be made in front of city council. I'm satisfied we've done our due diligence for our taxpayers.”