An Idaho House panel will delay changes to urban renewal agencies until next year. Urban renewal agencies are intended to trigger economic development but can operate without oversight from voters or citizens in raising funds for projects.
Lawmakers won’t act on proposed changes on urban renewal this year as proposed by Rep. Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls. He said work will continue on reforms before lawmakers meet next year. “The ball is moving and we ought to keep it moving,” Smith said. He worked on legislation as part of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, but heard opposition from all sides when he introduced the plan March 15. The changes in his legislation would include limiting the length and scope of urban renewal plans, allowing city leaders to remove members of Urban Renewal Agency Boards, and requiring more transparency by holding public hearings and allowing for people to respond to urban renewal plans. “I don’t believe that URAs ought to continue generating money and amassing a huge reserve in hopes that they can put something together,” Smith said.
Rep. Lenore Hardy Barrett, R-Challis, said more public involvement is critical. “Before you can form a district, the people need to vote, either yea or nay, and that will tell you the direction you can go,” she said.
Urban renewal laws have been on the books for more than 40 years, but one state representative said he’ll try to repeal those laws next year. “Urban renewal is simply too sick,” said Rep. Bob Schaefer, R-Nampa, who said he’ll introduce legislation to do away with urban renewal next year. He said urban renewal agencies are basically spending other people’s money. “We’ve got this money scheme out there where you’re taking it from legitimate taxing entities. That’s not the right way of doing things … This is like going to an Urban Renewal bar and getting drunk and doing things you wouldn’t do if you had your senses about you,” Schaefer said.
“This money is not manna from heaven,” said House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star. “This money came from somewhere.” He said tax revenues that go for urban renewal could otherwise go to libraries, fire departments, sewers, or other local taxing districts.
Rep. Bill Killen, D-Boise, said urban renewal has been a valuable, useful, and essential tool for cities. “This for years has been one of the few mechanisms that local governments could use to assist their local economies,” he said. House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said the debate over urban renewal centers on the question of whether communities should have the ability to use public funds for economic development.
“Those who work on urban renewal districts, however, should be on notice that next year, we’ll be dealing with this,” said Rep. James Ruchti, D-Pocatello.