Casper downtown tax district idea floated

2014-07-27T00:00:00Z Casper downtown tax district idea floatedBy TOM DIXON Star-Tribune staff writer The Billings Gazette
July 27, 2014 12:00 am  • 

The Casper Downtown Development Authority made its first public pitch this week for a new way to pay for projects.

Right now, the downtown authority receives about $140,000 a year from a 16-mill levy on property owners in its district.

Downtown authority officials want to use a new tool called a tax increment finance district, which would drive sales tax revenues to their coffers directly based on the financial success of their members.

Here’s how it would work:

A base year, probably the previous 12 months, is set for sales tax revenue. Downtown authority officials are estimating about $25 million.

If in the first year of the new TIF district, sales increase by $2 million, the city of Casper’s share would be $18,000.

That money would instead go back to the district.

It’s not much at first, but board chairman Charles Walsh said the downtown authority is thinking long term.

Cheyenne’s downtown authority TIF district is 22 years old. In 1999, the TIF district brought in $201,000. Last year, it raised $531,800. The increase is a measure of success, say some property owners.

“Downtown, we believe, does need some focus,” said Bob Moberly. “It’s a tiny authority, and you get a metric to measure their success. Every year, you get to see their results. You get to control all the money and slice a little off to dedicate there.”

Montana-based consultant Janet Cornish emphasized to a standing-room-only crowd at the Casper City Council work session that the council would have oversight over how the downtown authority used the money.

It doesn’t increase taxes, she explained. It just changes the way new tax dollars — in other words, the growth of sales tax dollars in the district — are distributed.

The money could be spent on anything from streetscaping projects to a public plaza, Cornish said.

The new revenue empowers the downtown authority to be more active, said board members.

“We could, as a DDA, just exist, which, in the past 10 years is kind of how it’s been,” said board member Lisa Burridge. “What you have right now with the DDA board is a group of people who truly want to see downtown prosper and be greater than it is.

"Rather than come to you with a project … we want to come up with a unique way to be able to fund future development and things that make downtown grow without having to come to you for money.”

Council members asked downtown authority representatives to come back to them with a project list and cost estimates so the council could get a better understanding of how the money would be used.

The next work session is at 4:30 p.m. on Aug. 5 in the council meeting room.

James Goossen

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