Next Tuesday, February 11th at 6:30pm at City Hall, the Council will meet to discuss and potentially approve some additional grant opportunities within the RDA fund.
The RDA fund is one of these nerdy under-the-hood kinds of topics that most of us lose track of easily, but actually really, really matter in our community. In fact, you could argue that without the creation of the RDA, our entire downtown area would not look like the thriving, charming, lovely, safe, walk-able, accessible, beautiful historic downtown that it does. But what the heck is it?
What is the RDA?
The RDA – Redevelopment Agency for Boulder City was created in 1999. Basically, it works like this:
- It is for Private Commercial and City-sponsored projects only
- You must be within the defined RDA zone that was identified, specifically selecting areas in our downtown, commercial and business areas, including our historic district (See a map HERE.)
- It is funded solely through property taxes
- Taxes are not increased to accommodate the fund – the RDA Board re-allocates existing property taxes into the RDA fund. As assessed values rise, that money is pooled into the RDA fund
- All RDA expenditures have to be approved in advance by the City Council, and then are only reimbursed after work is complete, and receipts for that work are submitted to the City
- The reimbursement is for up to 30% on qualifying exterior work, and 50% for signage, both with a max spend of $99,990
So, those buildings within the RDA zone have the same tax rate as homes and businesses OUTSIDE of the designated RDA zone. But the increment since 1999 that would normally be going to the state or county are instead set aside into the RDA fund. Taxes only increase AFTER a property has been enhanced. (We’re not talking about a government entity increasing property tax rates, which of course could always happen.) So, just like if you remodel or expand your personal property, your improvements increase the value of your property, and then when taxes are re-assessed, they increase because the VALUE of your property has increased based upon those improvements. It’s the same thing, but applied to our commercial district. The RDA funds increase gradually, based only upon the difference in the assessed value above the baseline that was set back in 1999. We’ve got a graph for you HERE.
You with us so far?
As those funds accumulate and are pooled together, they become a mighty fund that then the businesses within that designated RDA area, can access to make improvements to their business, open a business, improve signage, and other qualifying projects. They’ve paid into the fund, and currently there are about 500 businesses within that RDA area. So now it is theirs to access for some extra help in opening or making improvements to their business.
The City has also made use of these funds over the years for various projects that have improved our downtown area. For a complete listing of all the projects created since 1999, you can check out this link HERE.
Not all of the City projects have been popular uses of these funds, and some who have been critical of the program have argued that these projects should be funded in other ways, through public works or other budgetary funds. However, remember that every single project has first been approved by the City Council, from the program’s creation thru today.
When you look at the list of projects and expenditures, you’ll see tons of businesses you know, love and patronize on a regular basis: Milo’s Cellar & Inn, Jack’s Place, The Dillinger, BC Real Estate, Plaza Realty, Auto Specialists, El Rancho Motel, the Boulder Dam Hotel, and more recently, the Boulder City Co. Store, A&W and the Boulder City Inn. You will see, the list is really quite extensive.
Remember, these businesses have all been paying into this fund, via their property taxes since 1999. And this is a program ruled by state law (NRS-278), so there are very specific requirements that each award has to meet, and multiple estimates for the work have to be submitted. This program is similar to ones that exist throughout Clark County and in a great many state and municipalities throughout the US.
The Boulder City fund has previously allowed only external improvements (and some internal ones, such as the installation of ADA required facilities or safety improvements, like sprinkler systems) and signage.
Also note, that of course whatever reimbursement any business owner applies and qualifies for, those funds are usually a small fraction of their entire investment. We know, for example, that Milo Hurst spent over $1 million on his entire remodel over several years, to create what you now see as Milo’s Cellar & Inn. His reimbursement was for only about 10% of his entire investment, if that.
Our downtown, without all of our accessible and lovely sidewalks, crosswalks, signage and lighting would look much different than it currently does. The City has made many uses of those funds for projects to improve the appearance of our historic downtown area.
Currently, the RDA fund has about $2 million dollars in it. The annual budget for the RDA is $550,000. The total amount spent on the RDA since it’s creation is $11.6 million. City projects have totaled $7.8 million and Private projects spent $3.8 million, in all.
The City’s Strategic Plan for 2025 has identified Historic Preservation as a key goal for the City. The intent of the new program is to encourage historic preservation of commercial properties, where appropriate or possible. There are some key points to this new program to review:
- This is still only for Commercial projects – not Residential homes
- They must still lie within the RDA designated area – and have thus already been paying into the RDA fund
- The reimbursement amount is increased to 50% of expenses, versus the 30% for the regular exterior only RDA, same max of $99,900
- For the first time, the fund will be made available for interior renovations, as opposed to purely external
- However, the bar is set pretty high, in terms of specifically what ‘historic renovation’ entails
The list of eligible and ineligible activities is very specific as they relate to refurbishing/restoring historic properties. The new grant is being funded by previously unused resources to begin the program with $100,000, allocated in the 2020 budget. Plus, there is also $179,000 approved from the 2019-20 budget. So there appears to be plenty of funding to begin this new program with.
The program has already been extensively discussed and now approved by the Historic Preservation Committee, and will go before the City Council for discussion and possible approval on Tuesday, February 11th at 6:30, before the regular Council session begins.
Concerns, Questions and Benefits
Some within the business community are concerned about the expansion of this program, fearing that it will limit the existing funds for businesses and their commercial projects over time. It is absolutely true, that despite this new grant, the funds are indeed coming out of the same pot. However, it is of course worth noting that these properties have been contributing into this same RDA fund since its inception back in 1999.
Some can argue that the business community has a right to their concerns. It’s worth noting that the use of these funds via the businesses has been…inconsistent over time, (you can see a chart HERE), depending upon City Hall’s handling of the program, communicating it to the business community, and the City Council, who are responsible for administering the funds.
Since Michael Mays, the current Community Development Director was hired, he and his staff have made many improvements to the program, streamlining the application process (which had become really cumbersome), and making sure qualifying businesses are aware that these funds are available to them.
We have also heard criticisms from the general public in town, possibly due to not understanding the nature of how the program works. The funds are only available to those businesses located within the RDA zone, and they have paid into the program via their property taxes. For new businesses, creating something that didn’t previously exist is always a win. You take land or a building that had zero tax base, and create something that then generates tax revenue. That’s a win/win for all of us, as it means more jobs, sales taxes, property taxes, RDA contributions, and a new business where none existed before. And it’s a heck of a lot better than a vacant space – I think we all agree on that!
If you doubt the value, consider this: for some business owners, it means the difference between being able to create what you really want, versus compromising for ‘less than’. Or others might not have been able to pursue their projects and dreams at all without the reimbursement of some of their investments. Owning, starting, or taking over a business, is a significant personal and financial investment, and entrepreneurs and business owners need support from their local communities, and indeed local governments, more than ever.
If we’re serious in this community about Historic Preservation, and I think we can say, we should be – then it’s indeed time that business owners that wish to get serious about restoring historic aspects of their properties, could possibly to have some additional help to do so. Anyone who has taken on the serious task of restoring something old can attest, the details and care that need to be taken are substantial – and expensive – to complete.
If anyone has any questions, we highly encourage reaching out to the Community Development Department at City Hall, phone and email contact info are available on the City’s website. We’ll see what the City Council decides to do with this come next Tuesday, and just like every other member of the business community, we’ll be interested to see what they ultimately do.