The city of Kuna, obviously aware of legislation passed by the Idaho Legislature regulating creation of an Urban Renewal Agency (URA), established a URA in May, well in advance of the July 1 implementation of the new regulations. By creating the agency in May, the city sidestepped rules intended to protect citizens from financing a URA over which they have little or no say.
This is not the first time Kuna’s City Council has attempted to establish an Urban Renewal Agency. In 2003 the council voted to establish an URA. But for a variety of reasons, including pressure from citizens and business owners, the council voted again in 2004 to disband the URA. Seven years later, Kuna residence are being ignored again.
What was the city trying to circumvent? House Bill 95 provided for the following protection:
1. To create a new UR agency, the people in the city (if agency is created in the city limits) or in the county (if within the county), must vote in favor of the creation by a majority of the voters.
2. City councils or county commissions may remove a URA commissioner by the vote of that body.
3. The URA must hold an annual meeting and take public comments regarding the fiscal status of the new district
4. The review period of a UR proposed plan lengthened from 30 to 60 days after the original plan was presented, to allow public input.
5. Expansion of the revenue allocation area is limited to a one-time expansion and “shoe-stringing” in new areas is prohibited.
6. Definition of blighted area excludes agricultural land or forest land from being brought into the deteriorated area.
7. Reduces the URA life and its bonding authority from 24 years to 20 years.
8. Clarifies the listing of values inside the district and for the entire municipality during the proposal phase of the UR plan.
The Kuna City Council voted on May 3 to establish the agency after being brought before the City Council on April 19. Planning and Zoning Director Steven Hasson presented his proposal for the creation of the Urban Renewal Agency and indicated that action must be taken quickly to establish the agency to avoid the necessity of a citywide election.
The good news is that it appears the only action taken by the City Council to date was to create the agency. The revenue allocation area, district boundaries, and deteriorated areas along with the scope of the plan have not been presented yet and thus should fall under the post July 1 date for heightened accountability standards.
The actions by planning and zoning and the City Council to act in such an expeditious manner should raise serious questions on behalf of business owners and residences of the city. Apparently gone in Kuna are the days when the mayor and City Council provided adequate time for the discussion to take place in the community on issues that will bind its citizens for the next 20 years.
All is not lost, though. Like the wise council did in 2004, the current council has the ability to repeal the URA. This can be brought to the citizens of Kuna for a legitimate opinion in November at the time of city elections. Hasson said in the April 19 meeting that if the original 2003 URA had moved forward, the increased values would never have been realized. At the very least, the council should hold a series of public meetings and examine the real impact these revenue allocation districts have on the community, rather than “pep rallies” by pro-urban renewal supporters. They need to establish explicit guidelines and sidebars for the URA in the plan, keep the area of deterioration to the bare minimum, and only establish the agency for a period of 10 years to prevent abuse of tax dollars we see around the state in other URAs that have existed for over 15 years.
Perhaps there needs to be some improvements in downtown Kuna. However the people who are footing the bill should be given a chance to voice their views. The best way to accomplish that would be repeal the URA and to hold a bond election for the needed improvements or at a minimum conduct an authorization vote to create the URA in November.