Keep eye on big URA picture - Coeur d'Alene Press: Editorial

Keep eye on big URA picture

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Posted: Wednesday, February 22, 2012 12:15 am

Urban renewal makes an easy target for those of us who don't like taxes.

Yes, that's just about all of us.

But should it? Are we being fair, are we being prudent, when we clamor for elimination of the laws that permit the use of tax-increment financing - an unwieldy term that assures much misunderstanding right out of the gate - to spur economic development in the short term for benefit in the long one?

Rep. Kathy Sims of Coeur d'Alene recently recommended changes to the way urban renewal agencies function, but Rep. Robert Schaefer, a Nampa Republican, introduced legislation last week that would repeal Idaho's urban renewal laws altogether and require debts incurred by urban renewal agencies to be retired. Schaefer's goal - to funnel more money toward schools, fire departments and highway agencies - seems laudable on the surface. But we think it bears deeper examination.

For the most part, urban renewal encourages developers to improve property that would then generate substantially more property taxes. The encouragement can take the form of grants, but most often it requires developers to pay out of their own pockets for improvements before realizing any longer term advantages.

When the property's value is increased, that ostensibly increases the property taxes generated by the improvement. For set periods - the range of years varies significantly - the additional property taxes coming from the more valuable property go back into the urban renewal agency, rather than to more traditional tax collectors like cities and schools.

Your view of the validity of urban renewal as an economic development tool probably depends upon the projects you're examining. In Coeur d'Alene, the people who oppose McEuen Park improvements probably aren't big fans of the city's urban renewal agency, which last week set aside $11.5 million to pay for some of those improvements. Conversely, citizens who appreciate what John Stone has done with the former brown field at Northwest Boulevard and Seltice Way - property that was not just ugly, but wasn't generating much property tax revenue, either - more likely appreciate urban renewal's efforts to spur positive growth there.

The subject is far too complex to resolve all urban renewal disputes in one brief editorial, but as a fairly frequent urban renewal critic, we urge citizens to think carefully before sentencing this economic development resource to Death Row. As much of a pain as it is to see the increased property taxes flowing back into urban renewal districts - taxes that will help fund further improvements within those districts - remember that when the district closes, all the property taxes within that district will return to the original taxing entities, like schools, fire departments and highway agencies.

Urban renewal is a prime example of short-term pain for long-term gain. Urban renewal districts have limited lifetimes, but the additional property tax revenue they'll generate can last for generations.

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  • SamuelStanding posted at 8:21 am on Fri, Mar 2, 2012.

    SamuelStanding Posts: 514

    The idea to revitalize areas to increase tax revenues only works, if you can attract business to those areas.

    Attracting business needs to be the Priority, work with those businesses in what they would like to see, what would generate sales for them and tax revenues for the city.

    Not pet projects to place a feather in our cap. Civil servants are to represent the public and the area they live in, instead of the mindset that I am so important and I want to do what I want to do for MYSELF.

  • Mary Souza posted at 1:22 pm on Wed, Feb 22, 2012.

    Mary Souza Posts: 790

    Thanks, Maureen, I went ahead and copied the comment to put them out front anyway, even if they're not in the original format with photos and such.

  • posted at 10:14 am on Wed, Feb 22, 2012.


    Hi Mary, Thanks for alerting us the story had moved. It was the unintended result of a system update. I've posted the editorial again on our website's front page, but I had to do it as a new post to avoid it shifting again. Unfortunately, that means these comments won't be on the front page; they'll remain here. Sorry for the inconvenience. - Maureen Dolan

  • Jill Heine posted at 10:00 am on Wed, Feb 22, 2012.

    Jill Heine Posts: 408

    promises of equal or better are pie-in-the-sky until those projects and designed and fully funded BEFORE the existing is removed. Like that is going to happen before McEuen is ripped from local usage.

  • Mary Souza posted at 9:45 am on Wed, Feb 22, 2012.

    Mary Souza Posts: 790

    This editorial was posted out on the news commentary site earlier this morning, but has now been moved back here, under it's harder-to-find heading. Come on, Mike P., please move it back out so more people will give you feedback on your opinion!

  • Billy N posted at 9:32 am on Wed, Feb 22, 2012.

    Billy N Posts: 38

    "which last week set aside $11.5 million to pay for some of those improvements." Where did this 11.5 million come from? Is McEuen Park blighted? Face it LCDC is a scam. Shame on the people of Coeurd'alene for allowing it.

  • Mary Souza posted at 8:48 am on Wed, Feb 22, 2012.

    Mary Souza Posts: 790

    Rep. Kathy Sims, and others, have been trying for years to get substantive, responsible changes in the old, vague Idaho urban renewal laws. The agencies, like LCDC, use tax payer dollars to hire professional lobbyists to fight AGAINST changes to the law that might limit their powers or demand more accountability.

    The money controlled by urban renewal in Idaho is now huge. It packs a lot of political clout.

    As of Sept. 2011, urban renewal in Idaho controls $3.5 BILLION dollars worth of increment property value, and Kootenai County has the most of any other county in the state.

    With this kind of money and political power, is there any real hope for responsible use? Maybe we need to accept the reality of human character flaws, scrap the whole thing, and go back to the good old system of capitalism, where private business takes on private risk and reward, and public entities have to ask the voters for major spending projects. Brilliant!

  • Susie Snedaker posted at 8:44 am on Wed, Feb 22, 2012.

    Susie Snedaker Posts: 63

    John Stone's representative stated that Riverstone was a brown field. When and by whom was this area declared a brown field?

  • rexaroni posted at 8:35 am on Wed, Feb 22, 2012.

    rexaroni Posts: 189

    The last few lines of the editorial: "Urban renewal is a prime example of short-term pain for long-term gain. Urban renewal districts have limited lifetimes, but the additional property tax revenue they'll generate can last for generations."

    That sentence should have read: "Urban renewal DONE RIGHT is a prime example of short-term pain for long-term gain."

    If it were done right, I could live with it. Shorter URA lifetimes, tighter districts, more well-defined URA/URD's charters, projects worthy of those charters (i.e. blight), no croneyism, citizen oversight. All of these could make urban renewal something taxpayers could live with. I haven't seen too many examples of it done right, though.

  • mister d posted at 7:42 am on Wed, Feb 22, 2012.

    mister d Posts: 1531

    I am against this misuse of tax maney that benefits a few at the expense of many. Good luck Rep. Shaefer with your bill to end the unfairness to many, profit for few.

  • rollingthunder posted at 7:26 am on Wed, Feb 22, 2012.

    rollingthunder Posts: 352

    Urban Renewal Districts amount to taxation without representation (the reason we threw the tea overboard) URDs should never have been allowed and good for Rep. Schaefer for introduction of a bill to get rid of them. By allowing URDs you have created a monster that consumes tax money that we the people have no say about. Get rid of all URD legislation and remove all legislators that support them!!!

  • Will Penny posted at 6:40 am on Wed, Feb 22, 2012.

    Will Penny Posts: 265

    You bet I'm keeping an eye on what the lcdc funds. They're using my tax $$ to fund projects in CDA. I don't live in CDA and don't want to fund their good ol' boy hoity toity projects. Same goes for all the other URAs in KC. CDA, Post Falls, Harrison, Hayden you want fancy a**ed projects, pay for them yourselfs and let the tax$$ from those of us who live outside your borders go to the taxing districts that we pay for our services.

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