Downtown Revitalization Would Hinge on Property Tax Increase
RIDGWAY – According to Jill Markey, co-chair of Ridgway’s Streetscape Committee, the time has come to decide. “Do we want to sit and wait for the economy to get better? Or do we become proactive?”
The proactive choice, in this case, would be to act on the town’s long-simmering Historic Business District Streetscape Plan, adopted in 2006 but largely dormant since.
To answer the question – wait or act? – the committee, with Ridgway Town Council approval, has in the last couple of weeks prepared a press release, a map and a community survey. They have delivered postcards to every business and property owner in Ridgway with the request that respondents take the eight-question, on-line survey at the town’s webpage: http://www.town.ridgway.co.us/survey.htm.
Committee member, Mayor John Clark described the timeline from there. Survey responses are due from the community by Nov. 9. On Nov. 12 the committee will meet to review the responses and results of other community outreach. On Nov. 15, the committee has a scheduled workshop with town council to discuss survey results. If those findings are positive, the town could move forward with a ballot measure in April 2013 to fund the downtown improvements.
That, of course, is the catch. To revitalize the historic business core, as sketched out in the Streetscape Plan, will take about $3.5 million, money the thin-stretched town doesn’t have at present. (The Streetscape press release says, “While we’d prefer that the town pay-as-we-go, Ridgway just doesn’t have the income stream. Using only the revenue from the 2005 sales tax increase, we’d need 50 years to make these changes . . . A property tax increase would allow us to begin much sooner.”)
The infrastructure improvements include paving a few central blocks of Railroad Street, N. Lena Street, N. Cora and N. Laura. Clinton Street, historic Ridgway’s main business district would be paved from the Post Office west to Laura. Charles Street in front of the library would also be paved. New parking lots on town property north of the library would be built.
More importantly, perhaps, the plan envisions extensive tree planting, new lights and signs, and wide curbs and sidewalks with benches and bike racks, encouraging a pedestrian, bicycle-friendly downtown. The idea, as stated at numerous town meetings, is to draw motorists off the main drag and into a vibrant, inviting downtown.
“I’m excited about it,” said Markey, who is co-owner of Alternative Power Enterprises downtown, and a homeowner. “I think it could be good thing for Ridgway. Studies show that when downtown businesses prosper, all businesses in town prosper.
“I’ve been going door to door” among the business community, Markey said. “They’re not psyched about the property tax, but they see the need and most are in favor.”
The suggested property tax would increase a residential tax bill by approximately $72 per year per $100,000 valuation. The business property tax would go up $264 for each $100,000 of assessed valuation.
The hope is, Markey said, that increased sales “generated by additional tourism, should compensate for increased business property taxes and also place our local economy on a more solid footing . . . It could be a tax balancing act,” she continued. “My property taxes went down last year in the revaluation – lower valuations for a while balanced by a higher tax rate.”
She also noted that about $800,000 of the cost would be for “furnishings,” the landscaping, bike racks, benches, etc., and that those projects would be bid on by local craftsmen and contractors. “This would mean jobs and local revenue.”
The committee believes, Markey said, that “the low cost of borrowing right now, combined with low construction costs, make this the right time” to tackle revitalization. The committee’s research found that borrowing against a property tax increase had the lowest costs of any local tax.
“Our job is just to get input and report to council,” Markey said. But she clearly believes that the economic climate, combined with the current excitement around Ridgway’s future as exemplified by the Creative District and the ongoing Main Street Program initiative, add up to an opportunity.
The committee wants your input. Feel free, the press release says, to contact any committee member – John Clark, Paula James, Tammee Tuttle, Thomas Emilson, Doug McFarlane, Beecher Threatt, Ed Folga, Kathy Wortman, Kristen Moberg, Rick Weaver or Markey.
Go the website. Or pick up maps and a survey at Town Hall.
“If you have a better idea for revitalizing our economy – or comments on this one – tell us.”