Enterprise Zone proving a boon for Colorado Avenue non-profits

       Westside CARES recently became the fourth nonprofit entity along West Colorado Avenue approved to offer donors 25 percent income tax credits through the El Paso County Enterprise Zone.
       Although better known for helping businesses spur job creation and investment through reduced tax liability, the zone also has a charge to help residents become more productive members of society - which all four entities do in different ways.
       “Formed in 1983, Westside CARES is an interfaith, nonprofit collaboration of 21 churches intent on providing services to residents of the Westside in crisis,” reads the agency's application to the Colorado Economic Development Commission. “The only criterion for accessing services is an individual's or family's genuine need.”
       The other three are the Rocky Mountain Community Land Trust (RMCLT), 1212 W. Colorado Ave.; Greccio Housing, 1808 W. Colorado Ave.; and Goodwill Industries, 2320 W. Colorado Ave.
       Several portions of Colorado Springs have been designated Enterprise Zones. The four nonprofits are along the West Colorado Avenue corridor that's been designated between Pikes Peak Avenue and Cimarron Street from I-25 to 30th Street. Much of Old Colorado City was part of the original El Paso County Enterprise Zone, established in 1990, according to Deanne McCann of the county Economic Development Division.
       To be added to the Enterprise Zone, an area must be located in a census tract that meets one of two criteria: unemployment rate greater than 25 percent above the state average or per capita income less than 75 percent of the state average. All projects and boundary amendments must be approved by the Colorado Economic Development Commission, a nine-member board appointed by the Governor and state legislative leaders.
       Greccio, which provides affordable rental housing, has been in the Enterprise Zone the longest - at least eight years, while Goodwill and RMCLT, like Westside CARES, are in their first years.
       As a result, only Greccio of the four has long-term numbers showing how the zone can help. According to Rich Strycker, the agency averages $50,000 a year from people who choose to donate that way. “It's a big incentive,” he said. “We push it obviously as a win-win.”
       In Westside CARES' less than half-year in the Enterprise Zone, Executive Director Stephen Brown estimated the nonprofit has “received two or three contributions that are larger than they would have been without this. So people who were already giving are giving in larger amounts. It's a very nice benefit to our regular contributors.”
       A similar report came from RMCLT Executive Director Bob Koenig. The 11-year nonprofit retains partial ownership of homes it puts on the market so as to reduce mortgage payments for buyers. In relocating RMCLT from its former location this year, “we said we had to be in the Enterprise Zone,” Koenig recalled. How did he find the 1212 address? “I started walking West Colorado Avenue, looking for properties.”
       Goodwill Industries, which trains people for jobs and personal independence, is just starting to promote the Enterprise Zone to potential givers. “I expect it will mean several thousand dollars,” said Jeanne Conder, vice-president of the Goodwill Industries Foundation. “It's such a great way to give, and people get such a benefit.”
       A flyer that Goodwill is sending out uses $1,000 as an example. A donor in the 28 percent tax bracket would get $250 (reflecting the 25 percent state income tax credit), and an overall state/federal tax liability reduction of $626.
       From the El Paso County standpoint, although there has been no cost-benefit comparison (for how the taxes might be used otherwise), it is believed the program is a solid investment. “Between 2002 and 2006, 33 projects received cash contributions through the El Paso County Enterprise Zone, totaling over $15 million,” according to a write-up by Westside businesswoman and County Commissioner Sallie Clark. “Eligible non-profits include medical care providers, faith-based and teen homeless services, art centers and museums, and affordable housing and tourism. According to the county's Financial Services Department, total designated Enterprise Zone project cash contributions have increased by 643 percent from $908,218 in 2002 to $6,747,518 in 2006.”
       Also in the Enterprise Zone are for-profit businesses. For them, “these credits are not just a deduction but an actual reduction of tax liability,” McCann said. “Many can be carried forward to future years and some can be carried back.”
       For more information, call McCann at 520-6481.

Westside Pioneer article