GUARDIAN Supports Urban Renewal Reform


Because Urban Renewal Agencies operate as an “Independent Body Corporate and Politic,” all districts in Idaho have no oversight of any voters, taxpayers, or elected officials at any level.

Once a district is created by a city or county (usually a city) it can spend as it pleases, go into debt at its own discretion and condemn property at will. They report to no one.

Recently the Idaho Attorney General investigated allegations against the Caldwell urban renewal agency. Complainants claimed officials were given memberships in the private YMCA– including a family membership for the mayor worth more than $800–from urban renewal funds. The agency provides more than $1 million a year to the YMCA, but holds no ownership, and they also provide subsidies for memberships to Simplot employees and county workers among others to the tune of $150,000.

The Attorney General said while it didn’t look good and may not be appropriate, the agencies have broad authority to spend and ruled there was no violation of Idaho law.

In Boise the urban renewal agency abruptly cut payment of dues to the exclusive Arid Club for its director when it was revealed in the Boise GUARDIAN blog. The appointed board had approved the expense for years.

While the intent of urban renewal is noble, it has evolved into a gigantic slush fund that reports to no one. Taxes on the APPRECIATED VALUE and all IMPROVEMENTS are diverted from the schools, cities, counties, and all other districts such as libraries and fire protection. That is called the INCREMENT. The result is property taxpayers have to make up the difference.

Rather than create new development that pays taxes, many cities are using URA to “launder” public works projects such as city halls, police stations, and libraries through URA. The reason? Idaho’s constitution requires voter approval for those projects, but if the URA builds it and finances the debt with bond sales, there is no voter approval. The cities “rent” from the URA for 24 years, but contrary to the intent of UR, there is never any tax revenue on the government owned public buildings.

The conservative group pushing for reform has gotten the ear of the legislature, triggering consternation among local politicians and many media pundits. For the most part, the bills seek voter approval to create a district, approve public debt, or allow affected districts like schools to “opt out” prior to formation of a URA district.

The concept of urban renewal isn’t bad, but when officials claim the light of public scrutiny would cripple their activities, perhaps those activities should be curtailed.

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. Stop the Slush
    Feb 18, 2011, 1:53 pm

    You hit the nail on the head – – these have been, and are slush funds for the cities. There is no doubt why the cities are trying to kill the reform.

    As a taxpayer I am very upset that it has taken the legislature sooooo long to get to this issue. The City leaders (especially Boise) have been “slushing” for way too long with little or no voter oversight.

    I was told personally by a current city council member that “the voters are not smart enought to understand urban renewal” and that they (the councilors) were elected to “handle these complicated issues” without voter oversight. This argument is just plain arrogant – a state of mind that these folks live in constantly.

    It is time that the legislature gave us (the voters) back the rights they took from us – the right to challenge ALL the funding schemes that our city leaders try and succeed to create their “shlush”.

  2. Rod in SE Boise
    Feb 18, 2011, 4:57 pm

    From the Guardian’s article: “The conservative group pushing for reform has gotten the ear of the legislature, ….”

    Seems more likely to me that it would be liberal groups pushing for reform (and even abolition of UR agencies) since most “conservative groups” care more about advancing the business agenda than about good governance and the welfare of the citizens of Boise.

    EDITOR NOTE–See if you can sell that to Team Dave and the Councilors!

  3. If we build it they will come and even if they don’t, we still got paid a whole bunch to build it and we can quickly leave town just as the sky falls.

    There are a lot of stealth taxes out there… anyone want to start a list?

  4. Voter approval wasn’t required for all the spending in the suburbs over the last 40 to 50 years. Why should voter approval be required for a URD? And who should get to vote? All the residents of the city? How about just the residents of the URD?

    The only other option is for greater downtown Boise to secede from the rest of Boise, then we wouldn’t have to hear you suburbanites complaining about tax shifts even though you suburbanites have received the following:

    2 new Parkcenter Bridges
    1 new massive Overland/Cole interchange
    1 new Micron interchange (Isaac’s Canyon)
    1 new Locust Grove freeway overpass
    1 new Orchard freeway overpass/interchange
    1 new Vista freeway overpass/interchange
    1 new State St bypass in Eagle
    1 new Hill Road Parkway

    Interstate 184 (The Connector)
    Federal Way
    Maple Grove
    Eagle Road
    Victory Road
    Overland Road
    Hwy 69 to Kuna
    and a lot more

    Oodles of new schools and parks

    And the massive widening of Interstate 84 from Broadway to West Nampa

    Yeah, go ahead suburbanites, keep complaining that you’re not get your fair share. UNBELIEVABLE!

    EDITOR NOTE– Pro-growth city councilors annexed those suburbs against their will. I would mandfor annexation.ate a vote of BOTH city residents AND suburbanites

  5. Greenbearcub
    Feb 19, 2011, 12:30 pm

    Should there be more oversight to the URD? Yes. Should the oversight be a vote every time something needs to be done by the general populace? No. Sorry but honestly the simple fact is that most people are not in anyway capable of knowing how to vote on these projects. They are too easily distracted by either side of the government or Justin Bieber. They hear the dreaded word “TAXES” and they either run or start yelling. Honestly I say those that don’t like taxes shouldn’t have to pay but then they must not use anything that taxes go to pay for. They better get use to not driving on any road, walking in any park or sidewalk and a few more services. Obviously that is completely a bit over the top but it is true.

    But once again should there be some type of oversight and some new rules, of course. I little corrective action could be good. However, to much would be disastrous for the greater Boise/Nampa/Caldwell areas.

    Furthermore, for any suburbanite to say that these additions go to help only downtown areas can just go to the back of the room and put that little cone of dunce on their head. (This last comment is not directed at the author of this editorial, as I do believe you to have a mind and that you do use it, in fact you know how to use it to sway those that I speak of to your side. That’s not wrong, we all do it, well at least us with half a mind do.) So lastly I have some agreement with this editorial but not to its full extent. It goes to far to have the whole populace to have oversight is not the way to get things done but to have no oversight is the way to get bloating. Just say it with me, Happy Middle ground.

    EDITOR NOTE–There are more bills out there than we can discuss in this space, but the GUARDIAN seeks to have ANY elected authority held responsible, be it city council, county commishes, direct election of board, or the populace vote to approve the districts. Autonomy with tax revenues being spent without representation is simply wrong. Public money MUST be appropriated by an elected body and that is not the case under current law.

  6. Rod in SE Boise
    Feb 19, 2011, 4:22 pm

    WOW! There must be lots of horses still in Boise because there is a lot of horse-you-know-what going around. boisecynic posted a long list of construction projects and expects us to believe that our local property taxes paid for any more that a tiny fraction of the cost.

    And Greenbearcub wants to restrict voting rights to a few knowledgeable people. Seriously???

    If you use your computer keyboard to type stupid stuff and put it out there for the world to see, then everyone in the world can form their own opinion of you.

    Wasn’t it Mark Twain who said that it might be better for people to think you are an idiot than to open your mouth and remove all doubt?

  7. I guess it must be the full moon! It seems to bring out the non-sense in people. A quick question Green bear cub. Just who would you propose be allowed to vote? Those that you choose? Those that think like you? Do you think that might be just a “titch” elitist? Or maybe I should decide who is qualified to vote. I have to tell you though, I am only a few short conversations from proposing we evacuate “most” of the residents and set fire to the whole bloody north end! It may be a “quaint” piece of the city, but those that have immigrated there are, in the main, NUTS!

  8. Dear Rod;

    Of course I know property taxes make up a small percentage of road funding, not so small a percentage of new schools though. In the same vein, URDs only make a small percentage, if any, increase to your property taxes.

    You, nor anyone else has yet to provide an independent and thorough accounting of how much extra property tax we pay due to the current 3 URDs in downtown Boise. No, the IFF report of a CATO report is not an independent and thorough accounting.

    Regardless, it ain’t rocket science, my property tax amounts to about $100 a month. If indeed we are making up some kind of difference then it probably is only a small percentage. My combined utilities are much more than $100 a month. So, please put things in their proper perspective. The existence of URDs is not putting you in the poor house.

    We all should be proud that at least some of our fellow citizens care about making downtown Boise better than the run-down warehouse district it once was. You may never visit downtown but a lot of people do. I rarely visit the Mall area and never visit the Factory Outlet area which has the taxpayer supported Ice Rink.

    This anti URD argument is little different than arguing you have no kids so you shouldn’t have to pay for schools.

    Yes, I would be in favor of better oversight, and no, URD funds should not be used for Arid Club memberships. But don’t pretend these kinds of abuses and annoyances don’t occur over the entire government spectrum.

  9. By the way Rod, someone else once said a small percentage of a large number is still a large number.

    Millions and millions have been spent on suburban expansion over decades. And you’re gonna begrudge 2 decades of creative management of the unique and older areas of town?

    I notice how no one responds to my assertions that new planning and zoning laws hamstring new development in the west downtown area.

  10. Rod in SE Boise
    Feb 21, 2011, 1:44 pm

    Anything I write here on this subject is only intended to support my main point that LOCAL government has waaaayyyy too much authority and does waaayyy too many things. Local government should do no more than manage cops, trash and other utilities (without owning any), schools, libraries, parks, and roads. Local government should not own or operate race tracks, fair grounds, ball parks for professional atheletes, arenas, convention halls, or build urban renewal projects. I may have left out some things that government should or should not do, but you get the point.

  11. The Constitution of Idaho is very clear if you read Art. VIII sec.8. Any debt, liability of obligation going out beyond one budget cycle requires 2/3rds voter approval save water and sewer that require only 50% plus one vote.

    Now we have Urban Renewal Title 50 that got into property taxpayers pocket back in the 1980’s and every wannabe mayor in Idaho has discovered the “magic of urban renewal” to get around bond elections.

    If they want stuff that requires debt financing then let the voters decide just like school bond elections. Needs will be met but toys and goodies may not pass muster with voters. This is the crux of the issue and voters have every right to demand a voice in how long term debt is taken on and paid off with property tax dollars.

    I suggest mr. cyinc and bearcub review the Idaho Constituion. Debt was deliberately made this way in Idaho because the waste and spend crowd was alive and well back in the days when the Idaho Constitution was framed. The mandate for a balanced budget is also something that has served Idaho well over the years.

  12. Paul;

    This isn’t about the Idaho Constitution’s debt clause. It’s about the creation and management of URDs.

    And if you’re going to talk Constitutional Law, please review the Idaho Supreme Court decision of 11-25-09 upholding URD indebtedness.

    I certainly hope Justice Horton and the others know a little something about constitutional law.

  13. Mr. Cynic,

    Let the URD’s operate under the strictures of the Idaho Constitution.

    Urban Renewal is property tax dollars and taxpayers have a right to taxation with representation. UR agencies answer to no voter oversight and it is wrong. Even newly election Gov. Jerry Brown, a democrat wants these agencies abolished.

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