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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Urban Renewal Needs Legislative Fix 2011 Session


Urban Renewal agencies in Idaho have been inadvertently granted dictatorial powers by the Idaho Legislature.  They have been granted "wide powers" in a number opinions handed down by courts and even a recent one by Idaho Attorney General, Lawrence Wasden.  These agencies have no citizen oversight. Citizens challenging abuses of urban renewal agencies in Idaho have no recourse from the Judicial branch of state government. Citizens concerned about property tax abuse desperately need a Legislative fix to these dictatorial agencies.
Most people have very little knowledge of how urban renewal agencies can legally form a district, divert property taxes and do virtually anything they choose with the powers they have been granted by our legislature.  They don't even have to conform to debt strictures spelled out in the Idaho Constitution that require a vote of the people for any debts beyond one budget cycle.  They can take on many millions in debt property taxpayers will have to make good without a vote of the people.

Urban renewal advocates would have you believe the money they spend on various projects are done at not cost to taxpayers.  The reality is it is a sleight of hand property tax shift that ultimately creates higher property taxes for every county property taxpayer.  Property taxes diverted to urban renewal agencies have to be made up.  Tax shortfalls to taxing districts create higher and higher levy rates to make up the the tax shift urban renewal creates for schools, streets, water, sewer, police, fire, highway districts, mosquito abatement etc. as inflation mandates higher and higher operating expenses for these taxing districts.

UR agencies in Idaho have siphoned off about $52 million property tax dollars in 2009 and the total increases every year.  Caldwell alone raked in $6 million and Nampa about $3.3 million this past year.  You can easily see Caldwell has one of the more ambitious urban renewal agencies in the state. This tax shift has to be made up by all county taxpayers not just Caldwell taxpayers.

Urban renewal advocates claim those taxes are not really lost to local taxing districts because they would not been generated without a urban renewal district.  It is called the "but for" ideology.  "But for" urban renewal tax money would never have been generated by property taxes.  In all likelihood the development in urban renewal districts would have happened with or without formation of these agencies.  They use the money as direct subsidies to developers operating inside agency boundaries. Check registers of the agencies bear out this fact.

Severely blighted Downtown Caldwell wasn't even in the original boundaries of CEURA until 2001.  Sky Ranch Business Park and Walmart (farm land) were in the original district boundaries.  CEURA boundaries were modified in 2001 to also include the YMCA project site in the CEURA district to facilitate a $10 Million subsidy to the "Y".  The "Y" gets a check for $1 million each year from CEURA from property taxes collected in Caldwell.

Nampa gave us the Idaho Center with their first urban renewal effort in the mid 1990's. Today it costs Nampa taxpayers $600k/year to keep the place open.  The latest Nampa urban renewal agency, Nampa Development Corporation is scheduled to spend about $268 Million of property taxes shifted to NDC for a plethora of public buildings without a single citizen vote.

Idaho cities routinely use urban renewal money and revenue bonding debt to make infrastructure improvements in undeveloped areas (farm land) that would have ordinarily have been financed by developers. Idaho law allows productive agricultural lands to be declared "blighted".  Think for a moment about Nampa Marketplace in Nampa and Sky Ranch in Caldwell. The property would have been developed without urban renewal subsidies due to the proximity to I-84 access on and off ramps.  These areas were not blighted and were annually renewed via new crops each year. There was no blight in either of these areas yet millions were spent via urban renewal subsidies to developers for both of these projects.

 Property taxes outside the CEURA district in Caldwell are about $300 more per $100K per year of taxable value due to CEURA confiscation of tax dollars.
Ironically, when voters approve tax levy increases for schools, they also  increase revenues to Urban Renewal agencies.  Urban Renewal agencies can't levy taxes but they automatically accept the inherent total levy rates within the boundaries of the cities where they exist for the "increment" they confiscate.  A school bond levy rate increase automatically increases revenue to UR agencies.

Citizens can not question nor can they seek legal resource to urban renewal abuses. A complaint filed with Attorney General Wasden regarding CEURA members getting free family memberships to the YMCA or subsidized memberships paid with urban renewal tax dollars was swept under the rug.

UR agencies have been granted "wide powers" under Title 50 chapter 20 of the Idaho Code.  CCDC Charmian, Phil Kushlan was getting a membership and expenses paid to the ARID CLUB in Boise until exposed by a concerned citizen.  These agencies have no oversight and are virtual dictatorships allowed by Idaho Law.  They are even exempt from the Idaho Constitutional strictures.

Last month CEURA could not find attractive financing to pay for the TVCC project.  They made a raid on Caldwell City rainy day funds invested in the LGIP (local govt. investment pool).  In yet another feat of magic CEURA had the City of Caldwell purchase the TVCC building and contents for $6million from Oppenheimer Development and then put the purchase on the easy payment plan for all of us by having the City of Caldwell sell TVCC back to CEURA.  All perfectly legal under the powers granted to urban renewal agencies.  Let's hope the reserves for water, sewer, cemetery, golf courses don't have any kind of financial emergency because the money is gone.

The Idaho Legislature owes all of us a fix to this theft of our tax dollars.  We will get to see if the legislature has the political will to do something about it this year.  Voting on debts, projects and board members would be a good start.


  1. A letter to the editor in the paper this week had a reader complaining about his commercial proeprty taxes goiong up 18% this year due to urban renewal taxes and increased assessed values and raised taxes in Nampa and Caldwell.

  2. My commercial urban renewal taxes are more than my county land taxes. It doubled by expense from $ 1400 to $3600.00 in the city of Nampa for the last 3 years.


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