In the interest of community unity, Delta Urban Renewal Authority will no longer pursue mediation as a means of gaining participation in tax incentive financing for the proposed hotel development.
Delta County Mosquito Control District #1 and Delta County Fire Protection District #2 both declined to enter into agreements with DURA to give up any property tax revenues that would have been generated by the hotel development.
Representatives from both entities also refused to discuss the matter further, rejecting attempts from city staff, council members and legal counsel to "come to the table."
The next step was mediation, but again the fire/mosquito districts refused to engage in formal discussions. "The only ones winning here are the lawyers, not the taxpayers who are paying for it all," the mosquito control district noted in a letter to the editor.
In a separate letter, fire district officials said taxpayers expect their tax dollars to be used for what they were intended -- fire protection. Both entities also cited the additional services that development would necessitate.
Last week, Carolynne White, DURA's legal counsel, outlined three options for the DURA board -- continue the unsuccessful efforts to get the mosquito/fire districts to the table, "escalate" the legal process, or drop the matter altogether. DURA has already given up tax incentives from Tri-County Water District and the Colorado River Water Conservation District, but those are small amounts. Property tax revenues from the mosquito/fire districts represent about nine percent of the annual revenue potential to be applied toward repayment of the bonds issued to cover project expenses.
"It could be make or break, but until we have discussions with an actual developer, we won't have an answer to that," White said.
Several DURA members have been against mediation from the get-go, statements council member Ron Austin said should have been confined to executive session, not open meetings.
Austin said he does not disagree with the decision to forego mediation, but said for the record, "We ran ourselves out of choices just by the things that have been said ... we've made it clear we're not going to pursue it, so why would other parties have any interest?"
"It was my intent that mediation would hopefully open up discussions," said council member Christopher Ryan. "For varying reasons that has not occurred, so I see no reason to prolong this. My vote was never intended to be a strong-arm tactic. We tried. I wish we had gotten a better response, but I think it's time for us to move on."
"On a very personal level, I'm really disappointed these two districts have not at least seen fit to be semi-cooperative in trying to find a solution," said Tom Huerkamp, the mayoral appointee to DURA. He believes a "gross misunderstanding" is at play, but starting a "shootout" won't have any benefit. "It's taken a lot to get us to this stage of unity. To start picking on a couple of the districts that 'don't get it,' is local political suicide."
Council member Bill Raley commented, "To try to force these two entities into mediation does not make any sense at all. It will only take money they could spend on fighting fires and eradicating mosquitoes and spend it bureaucracy. I oppose that and I will always oppose that."
Huerkamp said he hopes that backing off will send the message that DURA would welcome an opportunity to return to the discussion at any time. "That's a perfectly fine outcome and I for one am glad it took place in the open."
As the discussion returned to executive sessions, White advised that negotiations where proprietary information will be supplied by hotel developers will likely need to be conducted in private.
"Counsel will always advise when executive sessions are advisable, then you can take a vote," she said.
A collaborative effort between the Delta County Sheriff's Office and municipal law enforcement agencies throughout Delta County has resulted in a proposal for a 1 percent sales tax increase to fund public safety. A PowerPoint presentation titled "Back the Badge" is starting to make the rounds at city/town council meetings, service club luncheons and other events.