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Friday, February 25, 2011

Summary of Urban Renewal Bills in Idaho House

Summay of UR Legislative fixes in ID House of Representatives, Copy of letter sent to all House Members.....Senate support needed.

The Taxpayers Accountability Committee, with legal counsel, worked nine months to craft the Urban Re-newal legislation before you. Our objective is to establish public accountability and transparency to all urban renewal projects. We strive to restore taxpayer input into the process by requiring approval by vote on the establishment of new districts, district leadership and bonding transactions.
Following is a summary of the Urban Renewal bills currently before you.

HO95—This legislation is the most comprehensive of those that are before you. It has widespread sup-port from several governmental agencies and Urban Renewal Districts. The bill amends Title 50, Chap-ter 20 and Title 50, Chapter 29 by:
1. Require a majority of voters in a citywide election to authorize an agency to conduct business;
2. Requires a majority vote of the Board to remove or seat a UR Agency Commissioner;
3. Removes language allowing the mayor to appoint agency officers and returns that responsibility to
    The commissioners;
4. Extends the time for presenting recommendations to the planning commission from 30 to 60 days.
5. Sets the maximum bonding period to 20 years;
6. Defines “deteriorated area” and sets parameters on how agricultural and forestry operations are to
    be handled;
7. Adds provision to extend revenue allocation provision under special circumstances.
This legislation awaits action in the amending order on committee–suggested amendments brought forth by parties of interest in the bill.

HO96— This legislation requires a statement of total assessed value of the revenue allocation area as it compares to the total assessed value of all property within the municipality. It also allows an opt-out pro-vision for overlapping taxing districts who wish not to be included in the proposed rev allocation area.

HO97— This legislation limits an approved plan of UR to a single project to be completed within a speci-fied time with remaining funds remanded to the taxing entities.

HO99— An Urban Renewal Agency may issue bonds required to finance such project, upon approval by
two thirds (2/3) of the qualified electors voting in an election held for such purpose. This legislation awaits action in the amending order on committee.

HO110- Adds a public hearing to the process of establishing an Urban Renewal Project.

HO114– This legislation calls for a county-wide election of commissioners to an Urban Renewal District and places authority to replace commissioners with the Board of commissioners. Currently the responsi-bility for naming commissioners to the Agency lies with the Mayor and the local governing body.

Summary: Urban Renewal activities are not accountable to voters around the state which has re-sulted in many projects of questionable value that have caused substantial public unrest and criticism. It would not be fair to omit a note of praise to those very few good projects that have been completed on time, in budget with an occasional payback of excess funding.

Editor Note:  The above legislation aimed at putting a fair and reasonable amount of voter oversight on Urban Renewal Abuses has a good chance of getting passed in the House of Representatives.  The Idaho Senate is another matter, If you agree with this effort please contact your representatives and let them know how you feel about this effort to bring back taxpayer oversight of how property taxes get spent and stop urban renewal abuses in Idaho.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Senate Bill 1060 Will Give Us More Taxation Without Representation

Cities Seek More Authority Without Oversight
by David R. Frazier

While at least 6 bills are pending in the Idaho Legislature aimed at limiting Urban Renewal by allowing citizens to vote on board members and creation of districts, Idaho”s cities are pushing for a law allowing “Intermodal Commerce Authorities” with no voter control.

SB 1060 passed the Senate Friday (2-11-11) and is headed for the House. The BOISE GUARDIAN doesn’t oppose a healthy economy, jobs, or even “intermodal transportation centers.” We just feel these major public projects need to have public approval for the long term debt. Like current urban renewal agencies, these Intermodal Commerce Authorities would be autonomous agencies with authority to take even more property off the tax rolls to benefit a few businesses.

The idea is to create “land ports” that will have authority– like airports just got–to purchase, acquire, build, expand, buy, sell land, facilities, etc. through sale of public bonds. The aim is to construct freight warehouses and other commercial business facilities that will be TAX EXEMPT all under the guise of creating jobs and stimulating the economy.

It really is sad that cities have not only their “bully pulpits” with public releations staffers, but funds for association memberships that lobby, paid lobbyists (Boise has a stable of outside PR contracts and consulting firms doing surveys) to stealthily lay the foundation for pet projects DESIGNED to operate with no citizen oversight. It is wrong, it is sneaky and the legacy media needs to report on this legislation before it passes the house.

Take a look at SB 1060 SB 1060 TEXT LINK. If these projects were worthwhile, private businesses would gladly make the investment.

Editor Note:  There was not a word of this bill at the Canyon County Legislative forum held on Saturday morning 2-12-11.  This bill was supported by Senators McGee, Lodge, McKinzie and Smeyser of Canyon County. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Why Aren't Idaho Mayors Supporting Urban Renewal Fixes?

We're providing this guest opinion by Wayne Hoffman of the IFF with his permission.  It appeared in the Idaho Press Tribune today, February 21, 2011 and is on the IFF Website.

Last week it sounded like "whine time" in the Idaho Legislatures Local Government Committee meeting hearings on proposed legislative changes to Title 50 regarding Urban Renewal Laws of Idaho.  Mr. Hoffman as well as THE GUARDIAN think the legislative changes deserve Mayoral support.  Mayors in Idaho do not want citizens interfering with how they spend our property tax dollars and are throwing a fit rather than welcoming citizen participation in government.
" It’s interesting, if not somewhat puzzling, to watch our Idaho mayors become apoplectic when lawmakers and taxpayer advocates talk about changing the urban renewal law city governments love so much.
Urban renewal is one of the generation’s greatest taxpayer heists, but most people are completely unaware of it because it comes under the seemingly-benign label of “urban renewal.” That leads people to believe “urban renewal” is filled with wholesome goodness, the same way few of us question the veracity of dinner when it includes “vegetable medley.”
It contains vegetables and is packaged in something that sounds like music. What could possibly go wrong?
Urban renewal, to the uninitiated, is the program used in Idaho as well as other states in which taxpayer money is redirected to certain pet projects using the increase in property values within a district to pay for it. For years, it’s been a happening-good-time way for mayors to avoid asking taxpayers to approve otherwise unaffordable dream projects, such as the new law enforcement building going up in downtown Nampa, the Idaho Center in Nampa, the Treasure Valley Community College building in Caldwell, a big water amusement center in Rexburg and park renovations in Coeur d’Alene. 

In many cases “urban renewal” projects aren’t “urban” at all. Indeed, urban renewal works best when it takes in farmland, because urban renewal districts reap huge financial rewards for turning rows of crops into office space and retail centers. In such cases, urban renewal districts alone collect taxes from the increased valuation. The other districts collect property taxes as though the land remained undeveloped, forcing those districts to drive up levies in order to accommodate a greater demand for services.
The joke’s on taxpayers, however, who have to foot the bill for projects they never approved.
The fixes to this problem have several Idaho mayors in an uproar which I, frankly, don’t get. The series of bills pending in the Idaho House of Representatives merely call for an election to create urban renewal districts, clearly delineated projects, a required a vote before urban renewal districts enter into long-term debt, a vote of urban renewal board members and require more transparency by urban renewal districts. To me, these aren’t attacks on cities, but rather putting these government entities on the same level as any other government entity that plays with taxpayer money.
Frankly, urban renewal districts shouldn’t exist at all, and even the elected officials in California are beginning to understand what a boondoggle those urban renewal districts have become. Jerry Brown, the state’s new governor, is calling for the complete dissolution of so-called redevelopment agencies to help solve his state’s overspending problem.
Certainly California’s problem is not Idaho’s. However, there is a correlation: While some Idaho cities contend the economy has made it so they don’t have enough money to hire the police or firefighters they need, those same cities are busy siphoning taxpayer money to urban renewal districts in order to fund the arts, city government buildings and downtown beautification projects.
If urban renewal projects are as great as we’re told they are, mayors throughout Idaho should be enthusiastically behind the fixes now being contemplated by the Legislature. At least Meridian’s mayor is behind one of the changes. But the fact that many mayors are not makes one suspicious that perhaps urban renewal isn’t all it’s cracked up to be."

Wayne Hoffman is the Executive Director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Urban Renewal Minutes Highlights for CEURA Feb. 2011

THE GUARDIAN gleaned the following from the February 2011 Minutes of the Caldwell East Urban Renewal Agency:

1. The ongoing annual pledge of $1,000,000.00 to the Caldwell Family YMCA was ratified for payment again this year with a Motion by City Councilman Rob Hopper and a second by Chamber of Commerce Director, Theresa Hardin

2. Payments were made to the city of Caldwell for TVCC parking lot costs in the amounts of $252,677.84 and $65,876.78 for the parking lot and utility relocation costs.

3. After relieving developers at Cirrus Pointe and Sienna Hills of the responsibility of signalization requirements at Florida and Hwy 55 this past fall.  There is now some consideration of using funds reimbursed to the City by the IDT for work done at Exit 29 for traffic control at Florida and Hwy 55 and Ustick and at Hwy 20/26 and Smeed Pkwy.

4.  FTZ is a new acronym but stands for FOREIGN TRADE ZONE.  Steve Fultz the Director of CCEDC is seeking fuds from Urban Renewal to hire a consulting firm in the development of a FOREIGN TRADE ZONE in Caldwell. (Mayor Bieter in Boise is looking at creating a 30,000 acre FTZ project for the Chinese at the Boise Airport subsidized by taxpayers of Boise.)

5. Mr. Fultz, CCEDC Director, is also "currently in discussion with seven applicants" for the URA incentive program. Meanwhile, Chairman Eljay Waite of Caldwell East Urban Renewal Agency presented drafts of the Business Incentive Program Quarterly Report and Grant Agreement. (**see below response to public records request for URA APPLICATION FORM)

6. TVCC has an enrollment of 900 Students as reported by Dr. Kathleen Robinson, Director of Caldwell TVCC.

**THE GUARDIAN wanted to see the form used to apply for URA funds alluded to in Mr. Fultz's comments and got the following back from Caldwell City Clerk:

"Mr. Alldredge:

In your public records request submitted by email on Tuesday, February 8, 2011, you requested a “copy of the application form for the Urban Renewal Agency ‘Incentives Program’ funds.” As of today’s date, no formal application form has been adopted by the Agency for use with that program.

Draft documents relating to the program, including a draft application form, are being developed in consultation and communication with the Agency’s attorneys. However, such communications are exempt from disclosure pursuant to Idaho Code § 9-340A(1) and the attorney-client privilege. However, it is likely that such documents will be finalized, reviewed and adopted by the Agency at the next regularly scheduled board meeting on March 1, 2011. I would be happy to supplement this response with a copy of the application form as soon as one has been formally adopted by the Agency.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any further questions. Thank you!"

The application process referred to by Mr. Fultz appears to be taken from a chapter right out of CATCH-22.  How does one apply for something when the application FORM does not yet exist? Caldwell pays the firm of Hamilton, Mikelson and Hilty $34,000.00 per month for legal services.  This program was announced in the spring of 2010 and we still do not have a vetted form for folks to apply?  How can we have 7 applicants with no application form?  Stay tuned for more....

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Urban Renewal Like Kids In Candy Store And No Adult Supervision

Urban renewal laws in Idaho have been operating like "kids in a candy store" with no adult supervision for more than two decades.  Canyon and Ada County's Tax Payer Accountability Committee has worked tirelessly since last spring on the legislation that will help put voters back into the Urban Renewal process.

There were seven pieces of legislation introduced in Rep. Lenore Barrett's Local Government Committee yesterday.  THE GUARDIAN is aware of these pieces of legislation and taxpayer grievances with urban renewal in Idaho.  Pork projects all over Idaho fomented the need for legislative changes this year.

In short, the legislation will bring voters to the table in how urban renewal agencies get started and are funded.  A vote of the people in the formation of the agency, vote on members of the boards, and a vote of the people when urban renewal agencies wish to go into debt via revenue bonds is at the core of this effort (TAXATION WITH REPRESENTATION).

Outright repeal of Urban Renewal is also on the table this year.  It may sound draconian to some folks but the reality is Urban Renewal Laws in Idaho are a cobbled up series of patchwork legislation dating back to 1965.  Repeal with a three year moratorium would allow lawmakers to craft new legislation.  Voter oversight and management of the "kids in the candy store" is what all Idaho voters and taxpayers could expect if the current UR legislation gets repealed.

Stay tuned for more, this effort is just getting out of the gate and promises to be one of the more interesting debates in the Legislature this year. TAX AND SPEND proponents will be out in force to kill all of this legislation.

Here's a link to contact members of the Idaho Legislature via email Link to Members of Legislature .  This will take you to the web page for the Idaho Legislature should you wish to leave a comment for House or Senate members.  Canyon County Legislators were part of a guest opinion this week in the local paper asking for your comments and input on legislation.  Email as well as other contact info is on the link we have provided in this post.