It's time that the public weigh in on what we believe the purpose and vision of URDs are in the city of Coeur d'Alene.
Urban Renewal Districts are a great tool for economic development but they should be limited to the expressed purposes laid out in Title 50 Chapter 29 of the Idaho State Code. Before you weigh in, take the time to read this Idaho State Code. As you read it, notice the words used, like: economic growth, limited period, encourage private investment, slums and blighted areas, competitively disadvantaged border areas. It says nothing about the URDs becoming the developer. It says nothing about spending tax dollars on art sculptures up and down our streets. It's clear, when the project is completely funded, you shut them down.
Let's talk about the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
* URDs are great tools to encourage businesses to relocate to Kootenai County and Cd'A.
* They fix blighted areas, create jobs and later return the increased taxes to the public, which in turn reduces everyone's taxes.
* These projects should be both project specific and business specific. Just look to the west at Post Falls, on how they keep theirs site specific and close them when they are funded.
* With so much money involved (+$30 million), they want to twist the law to keep collecting money that has already funded the project.
* They make these districts so large that for any improvement that happens inside the district, they get the "increment tax increase" - even if the URD wasn't involved in the project. Why?
* Use tax dollars to fight against the taxpayers. We pay an executive director $154,881 in wages and benefits each year, not bad for a one-man department. This is paid by our taxpayers. Then we have to listen to him spew his political beliefs about who should be elected, if they don't support his position.
* They have already collected $32.7 million and now have borrowed another $16 million, while funding projects that do not fit the state code.
* Additional property tax burden created through URDs that are not well planned and managed hurts business growth and recruitment. They tell you that these are "tax neutral." THIS IS NOT TRUE!
Remember: Private investment in economy has a greater multiplier effect than public investment. See the graph from U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, above. Government investment has only a negligible multiplier effect.
Businesses generate the largest share of local funding. See pie chart from Ernst and Young, above.
Tony Berns references several projects that will not be done in his My Turn letter, if we elect the wrong person. Many of these do not have the URD's and public purpose; Midtown mixed-use workforce housing and retail building (cities should not be in the housing or retail business but rather foster an environment where these developments can thrive); funding of a downtown parking facility where a private company can charge for what has been built as public parking.
No issue with money being used to create infrastructure that will encourage companies that will generate new jobs. LCDC should not be in the business of using public funds for constructing buildings that will be privately held. No facade improvements of private buildings should be permitted!
We should also question the use of public funding by LCDC for education corridor-related projects. Why layer public funding on top of already publicly funded schools? This could be construed as double taxation for residents of Coeur d'Alene and Kootenai County, as everyone's taxes will go up when revenues are sequestered by either the Lake District or River District.
In closing, we need to understand the value of URDs in our city. Hold our elected officials to the law which is already written. We should make sure when we spend millions of dollars on questionable projects, we get the community involved. No more taxation without representation.
Ron Nilson is owner of Ground Force Worldwide. He's a Coeur d'Alene resident who lives in an urban renewal district.