January 29, 2020

Colorado is one of the most desirable places in the country to call home. Our robust and diverse economy, combined with pristine outdoor recreation and an unmatched quality of life, attract some of the biggest names in industry and a workforce to match.

But in the past, we have been challenged with crumbling infrastructure and outdated projects that, without metropolitan districts, would be embarrassments and threats to cities and their citizens.  Think of Lakewood with its Belmar – a neighborhood that brings young and elderly residents while enjoying great retail and arts. Those of us who saw Villa Italia remember a great mall closed with absence of customers.  

Look at the development of Stapleton, the Denver Tech Center, the developments along the Eagle-Vail Corridor.  All these projects have brought an economy that allows some of us parents’ assurance that our children and grandchildren could stay here and have great jobs in a beautiful metro area.  Before metro districts were new, the region struggled to provide financing important to bring new jobs to metro Denver with the 1980s Oil and Gas Bust.

All these projects we enjoy today created metro districts.  In those days, and today, cities and counties could never provide the needed infrastructure, and the capability to ignite Colorado’s job creation. Without metro districts, Metro Denver would not have the opportunities we enjoy.

The Post’s articles point to the importance of these governmental tools.  We must meet these challenges without burdening existing neighborhoods and established residents while doing the “job” of community growth and safety.  And the districts must do this without raising taxes upon those not benefitting from the district’s projects.

The Denver Post recently published a series detailing some alleged abuses of metro districts. Here are the facts on metro districts:

  • Most metro district debt is paid off within 40 years. Most municipalities cap district property taxes at 50 mills for 40 years, providing both a maximum amount of property tax burden and a maximum amount of time taxes can be imposed. Metropolitan districts cannot be forced to impose taxes to pay for infrastructure for longer than the approving municipality has allowed.
  • Metro district boards are often controlled by homeowners. District boards are subject to regular elections in which any property owner or resident may run for a seat. Further, all metro district meetings are open to the public and required to post key information with the state at dola.colorado.gov/lgis/.
  • Municipalities approving metro districts set the parameters within which they operate. There is significant control exerted by municipalities over metropolitan districts on the level of taxes that are they are allowed to impose, infrastructure that they are allowed to build, and improvements that they are allowed to maintain.

Perhaps more important to know, is that metro districts are heavily regulated in current statute to ensure protections for homeowners. Following the bankruptcy of several districts in the 1980s, the State Legislature and various municipalities enacted mill levy caps, termination dates, and restrictions on the sale of risky debt to individuals. 

Funding new infrastructure is a critical need for our growing state, and metropolitan districts provide a large part of the solution.

Tom Clark
Former CEO
Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation