El Paso County’s most recent monthly sales and use tax report reflects the increasing confidence of El Paso County residents. Automobile registrations were up 15 percent year over year. Use tax paid on construction materials was up 55 percent. Overall, sales and use taxes are up 7.8 percent over last year. These numbers suggest that economic recovery in the Pikes Peak Region is continuing a steady trend upward after falling sharply in 2008.
Economic development and job creation have been a dominant theme in the county for several years now and this is a good opportunity to review where El Paso County has participated and can help in strengthening the local economy.
Because of limitations placed on counties by the state constitution and state statutes, the county can be most effective in economic development by playing a supporting role as a partner or facilitator. But we do have some stand-alone tools that can be used to encourage economic activity.
The newest tool in our toolbox is a program administered by the El Paso County Housing Authority. It’s the Turnkey Mortgage Origination Program, made possible at no cost to taxpayers through a partnership with local lenders. It allows a homebuyer to receive up to 4 percent of the purchase price to be used as down payment, closing costs or other expenses associated with buying a home. A majority of the households in El Paso County are eligible for the program, which extends to home purchases up to $283,000.
There is no first-time homebuyer requirement; the income cap is $88,900 for a household of two or fewer and $103,700 for households of three or more. The loans are originated by participating local lenders; several are already in place with more expected to join shortly.
Another arrow in our quiver is the enterprise zone. Designed to encourage businesses to locate or expand in economically challenged areas, this program provides tax credits for new jobs created in those areas. It also provides direct tax credits to individuals who make charitable contributions to qualifying nonprofit organizations. Contributions made through the El Paso County enterprise zone support the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance, the Colorado Springs Philharmonic, Marian House Soup kitchen and many other nonprofits. Unfortunately, the enterprise zone program is under attack by some members of the Colorado general assembly, putting at risk the $8.8 million that benefited almost 300 companies last year. El Paso County is working to prevent that from happening.
The recently enacted traffic impact program gives developers of all sizes a cost-effective mechanism to fund off-site transportation infrastructure improvements necessary to move traffic in and out of newly developed areas. This innovative program levels the playing field for developers both large and small and supports the concept that new development should pay for itself. It’s taken years of hard work by stakeholders in the community working with county staff to take this program from concept to implementation. It would never have been possible without the support of groups like the Housing and Building Association, which recognize the value of an equitable system that provides the transportation infrastructure needed to support continued economic growth in our area.
Not unique in this state, the El Paso County model is in the median range when compared to other traffic-impact programs around Colorado. Unique to El Paso County was the stakeholder process used to build consensus and work out the details in the fairest manner possible.
I also want to call your attention to a new businesses assistance program initiated by the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department. Building official Henry Yankowski has recognized the need to help businesses through the building permit process as efficiently as possible and has implemented a special business team to assist the job creators in our community with their plans to grow and create more economic activity.
From a purely practical and economic point of view, if the residents and businesses of El Paso County do well, county government will do well. It is in our best interest to do all we can to support a strong local economy and job creation. I am a firm believer that full employment solves a myriad of social problems.
Dennis Hisey is chairman of the Board of County Commissioners.