Repubs Consider Urban Renewal Repeal

This post is a copy of a document to be presented at the Republican State Convention in Twin Falls. The GUARDIAN will gladly post similar items from the Dems.

By Rachel S. Gilbert

Do you wonder why your property taxes are so high and continue to rise year after year? Do you wonder why cities and counties are forced to raise your property taxes to pay for fire and police protection, schools, streets and roads, the courts, libraries, county sheriff operations, and a host of other essential services for cities and counties? Are you concerned about school levies year after year?

Here’s the problem, and it’s huge and complicated: URBAN RENEWAL AGENCIES are eviscerating our property tax base and getting away with it! How does that happen?

The Idaho Legislature passed the URBAN RENEWAL law in 1965 to rebuild BOISE’S infamous gutted downtown. At first it was funded by HUD, but when these federal funds dried up, urban renewal languished in Idaho for about 20 years. The problem was funding.

So in 1988 BOISE devised a new, cunning financing scheme called TAX INCREMENT FINANCING (TIF), which very few people understood. It allowed UR agencies to skim our property taxes to fund their questionable projects.

Then in 1997, UR took off like a rocket!! The LOCAL ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT LAW was passed. I call this law FOOD STAMPS FOR BUSINESSES. City mayors loved it! Developers loved it! Beneficiaries loved it! Farmers hated it! Now Mayors don’t have to go to the people for a pesky general two-thirds obligation bond to build public buildings! They just build them in an UR district and skim future property taxes for up to 24 years. WHAT’S NOT TO LOVE???

Is it not unfair and undemocratic to have UNELECTED, MAYOR-APPOINTED Commissioners spending our property taxes without a vote of the people? Are we going to allow UR to have TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION? LONG-TERM BONDING AUTHORITY without a vote of the people? UNELECTED UR COMMISSIONERS? AUTHORITY TO CONDEMN and take our properties? POLICE POWERS? AUTHORITY TO TAKE HUGE TRACTS OF LAND INTO UR DISTRICTS? What awesome power!!

There are now 70 urban renewal districts in 24 Idaho counties, and last year UR diverted over $52 million from our property tax base. How much was skimmed from your county property tax base last year? Let’s look at a few counties: ADA ….$10.4 million; BANNOCK….$4.9 million; BONNEVILLE…$3.3 million; CANYON…$9.8 Million; CASSIA…$2.2 million; JEROME…$3.1 million; KOOTENAI…$11 million; TWIN FALLS…$2.3 million.

Clearly, this is not just an ADA County problem, and most of you have heard about abuses: ^Nampa’s Idaho Center still requires a $1.2 million bailout from property taxes to pay its bills. ^Coeur d’Alene has a creative “shoestring” approach to take in properties from afar, and its mayor’s greed for more is without limit. ^Pocatello’s URA gave $1 million to Costco to subsidize its relocation to the city! ^Caldwell URA is subsidizing the YMCA for $9.7 million until 2014. Caldwell also handed out $30,000 for a beauty salon. The list goes on, and on and on. What’s happening to private enterprise?

These property tax dollars are desperately needed for our schools and city and county needs. We can no longer afford this costly diversion that is gutting our property tax base.

Legislators have tried year after year to tweak the UR law to protect our property tax base, but the tax-paid attorneys and lobbyistss, and beneficiaries have been too powerful!

There is only one solution: REPEAL THE IDAHO URBAN RENEWAL LAW.

CALIFORNIA REPEALED ITS UR LAW ON February 1, 2012. It was the first state to have urban renewal in 1945 and the first to repeal under Governor Jerry Brown’s leadership. The city mayors and beneficiaries squawked mightily, but the California Supreme court ruled the repeal constitutional!! Now 425 UR districts will be eliminated, and eventually $5.5 billion will go to schools and other essential services.

Senator Bart Davis has expressed concern about repealing the Idaho Personal Property tax, which provides 11% of property tax revenue state-wide. UR REPEAL would eventually put over $52 million back to cities and counties for schools and essential services. Senator Davis would be a great sponsor for REPEAL OF URBAN RENEWAL.

YOU CAN HELP. Talk to your legislators about REPEAL. We can restore our property tax base! Farmers and county residents are especially getting smacked hard to support city urban renewal spending habits, so do talk to your legislators. They will do nothing without your clear support.


Rachel S. Gilbert 208-376-6300
Idaho Legislator 1980-1990
4200 Mountain View Drive
Boise, Id 83704

June 12, 2012

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. Interesting comments. But left unsaid is who pays off the bonds?

    Or I should say, Interesting comments! Who pays off the bonds!

  2. IdahoCrystal
    Jun 21, 2012, 8:31 am

    High fives to Ms. Gilbert – I wholeheartedly agree!

  3. Yes! Let the pet projects pay for themselves. When a building gets old and decrepit, knock it down. Please find me an old building in the downtown that is safe to be in during an earthquake, and parking issues, and hundreds of other reasons why natural growth departed the downtown years ago.

    Bonds? That’s just a RINO card trick to keep the money shift going. No bonds, just a simple tax and let the free market choose the winners and losers.

  4. the Democratic platform is on their website

    EDITOR NOTE–they need to send it to the GUARDIAN if they want it posted here.

  5. Karen Ragland
    Jun 21, 2012, 9:50 am

    This only solidifies my belief that we NEVER OWN our homes. We just work, sacrifice, and fret to pay off the loan agencies, then continue to support useless elected officials of some sort so they can feed their pet projects with the tax kibble that just produces larger and larger tax kibble appetites as time goes on.

  6. Richard Horner
    Jun 21, 2012, 9:56 am

    What needs to be repealed is the section that was amended in 2007 to not allow cities and counties to take the new construction on properties in urban renewal areas.

    The affect on cities and counties has only been there since 2007; earlier new construction roles were allowed to be added to local government tax roles, thus, there was no affect on the taxing districts revenue before 2007.

  7. The problem is NOT urban renewal. The problem is the Lobbyists, PACs and major corporations that OWN politicians.

    But I do agree that Urban Renewal is being abused.

  8. Rachel, you should try a little harder. It’s so easy to cut down your essay it’s almost embarrassing for you.

    You start with the unsupported premise that property taxes are too high. Says who? Sure I’d like to pay $0 taxes but is that realistic? No it’s not.

    Every time this comes up I ask: Provide some actual accounting to back up your assertions the URDs increase other’s taxes. If it does it probably a minuscule amount. So far no one has obliged. But…

    You’re conveniently leaving out the part that urban renewal projects bring in other tax revenue like income tax, sales tax, gas tax and alcohol tax from restaurants. Have you been to downtown Boise lately? Are you going to tell me with a straight face that it’s a failure and none of those other tax revenues HAVE NOT BEEN generated? Furthermore, those projects revert to the general tax roles, the URDs sunset after a time, bringing with them much higher tax revenue than had nothing been done at all. How do you respond to that?

    But let’s get into the nuts and bolts of urban renewal and I’ll stick with the Fairview/Main corridor, the area I’ve studied most. Goodman Oil and the Bob Rice Ford Property, both effectively off the tax roles. I pay more per sq ft than both of those. How is this fair? How are they going to get redeveloped? Free market is your answer? Right, keep reading, there is no free market due to planning and zoning at all levels of gov’t not just local.

    For years, no, for decades tax money collected in the greater downtown area has been spent on suburban infrastructure. HOW IS THIS FAIR, RACHEL? Besides the connector extension, a federal project mind you, name one significant property tax generated expenditure in the greater downtown area outside the tiny URDs. Go on, name one!

    The multi million dollar Broadway/Chinden connector completed in 1992 diverted traffic from Fairview/Main. Fine, that was its purpose. But it also killed nearly all the business that was supported by that traffic. Wetlands destruction has to be mitigated but why no mitigation for business destruction by a new freeway built to serve suburban folks? I’m waiting for an answer.

    The lots in the Fairview/Main corridor area were carved up before current planning and zoning regs including parking and storm water mitigation rules. Those lots cannot compete with cheaper and tax subsidized suburban properties.

    You should be careful what you wish for. Because if you kill the URDs then greater downtown Boise should consider seceding so we can keep our tax money in our area and not pay for widening Maple Grove, Franklin, Five Mile, Locust Grove, Linder, Overland, Cloverdale, Ustick, McMillian etc, etc, etc…

    Don’t forget about suburban school needs like the new East Jr High and Timberline High. There’s also new park needs like Marianne Williams Park paid for by a convoluted impact fee, land trade deal and land-reverts-to-owner strong arm tactic. Meanwhile, the new downtown parks like the River Park and Esther Simplot park are relying almost totally on private donations.

  9. And another thing, let’s not forget about this 2009 Idaho Supreme Court ruling in favor of urban renewal:

  10. Diane Sower
    Jun 21, 2012, 4:46 pm

    Obviously those in control of the legislature aren’t going to give a rip. They didn’t when thousands of constituents called in to complain about “Luna’s Laws”, so why should they care now? They won’t. Their ill informed folks back home will keep them in the Capital building until it’s time to retire, and then they can become a lobbyist. Just like Skip Smyser, and the tobacco lobby. You just watch, all you holy republicans, they don’t care about you, and they never will. A couple of buzz words is all it takes for you to vote for them: Pro-life, which they aren’t, and family values, which they have none.

  11. Who pays the bonds?

    THE COMPANY that cleaned up the junkyard/gravel pit, and built the building, and expanded the infrastructure, and hired new employees – pays the bonds with their future tax dollars. Duh!

    OR you reimburse the developer that uses his/her own money FIRST. No bonded indebtedness that way. Duh…

    Our community started out with a junkyard/gravel pit/distressed properties valued on tax rolls at about $67 Million combined, and the IMPROVED properties resulted in tax roll VALUE of est $168 Million and created about 1500 jobs.

    Oh sorry I guess we/the community would have appreciated the junkyard better – Duh…

  12. Is this why “Butch” released that last year Idaho’s coffers had a “surplus”?

    I’ve lived all over the world, served two tours in Iraq, and never, NEVER in all my life been witness to such evil as that of the Idaho state government.

  13. Rod in Boise
    Jun 21, 2012, 7:16 pm

    Sounds like it could have been written by the Boise Guardian.

    For maybe the first time, the Republicans are proposing something sensible.

  14. Why do I even bother? This site is full of confirmation bias practitioners.

    Nan Emouse: Added nothing to the discussion except “me too.”

    Idaho Crystal: Another “me too” who adds nothing and can’t rebut my counter points.

    Zippo: Parking? There is plenty of parking downtown if you just use your brain. Earthquake retrofits do not meet cost/benefit analysis. The main reason downtowns were abandoned all across the USA is tax subsidized suburban development land. CARE TO A REBUTTAL?

    slfisher: added nothing

    Karen: Another “me too” person who adds nothing to the conversation and refuses to rebut my argument.

    Richard: Unclear what you’re saying.

    Dave: Even if URDs are being abused in other places, you don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

    Diane: You’re way off topic.

    Ronin: You’re way off topic.

    Rod: Another “me too” person who can’t offer a rebuttal to my counter points.

    EDITOR NOTE–Now you know how it feels to be the GUARDIAN. I am right and the rest of government is wrong! 🙂

  15. Appointed boards, no accountability to anyone for anything they choose to do, schools and public services funds cut and the list goes on and on.

    Big beautiful buildings built with property tax dollars and no voter approvals. Wide powers to do what would otherwise be a criminal activity. Nothing more than a taxation monster the Legislature let out of the box and only the Legislature can put it back in the box. Legal challenges to this corrupt and criminal activity that is in complete juxtaposition to the Idaho Constitution have failed due to “the legislature creates the law and the legislature needs to fix the law”.

    Capital projects and utter giving away of property tax dollars in the form of handouts to developers without voter approvals is simply wrong. There is very little “RENEWAL” going on with URA’s they are developer welfare programs to underwrite projects well outside of downtown blight in most cities.

  16. There is accountability. You get to vote for the Mayor and City Councilors every few years.

    Paul, Rachel, please tell me exactly how much it’s costing you. I’m still waiting for an answer.

    Giving away tax dollars in the form of handouts to developers? You mean like the Ten Mile Interchange? How much did it cost to widen I-84 out to Nampa so developers could build more houses out in Nampa and Meridian and Kuna.?

    What about farm subsidies and the ag exemption.

    You just hate downtown Boise because you think it’s some kind of liberal Sodom and Gomorrah, you could care less about the financing.

    You all are always against big government, so why not get the State out of local government affairs and give cities more power. Give city residents the right to decide on their own local option taxes.

  17. Calvin Jones
    Jun 22, 2012, 1:17 pm

    First, the issue described by Ms. Gilbert isn’t urban renewal per se but something in Idaho Code called revenue allocation (tax increment financing). There are Urban Renewal Districts in the state that do not utilize tax increment financing (Gooding is an example of this)and instead are funded through grants and local improvement districts.

    Second beware of what you ask for. Lets say Urban Renewal goes away tomorrow. Well a city that wants to extend public services to what was once considered an urban renewal area could very well do so by using enterprise funds. A city could simply jack up the rates on these services to pay for Urban Renewal can no longer do or shift funds around to implement the former Urban Renewal projects. Those pot holes near your home that get fixed every year might now get fixed every two, three etc as cities and highway districts divert maintenance funds to those projects.

    Now if the issue is “giveaways” lets take a look at all of these churches and other “non-profit” property owners who get the benefits of police, fire and roads without paying their fair share of property taxes.

  18. Wow, boise cynic, you’re not really a cynic as you tend to take the government’s position on things and you don’t question authority, you’re more of a dyspeptic grump. Don’t get irony much eh?!

    Here’s the answer to your question as to who pays for the urban renewal tax increment areas. We all do. Any taxes raised over the increment goes to the urban renewal agency. That money is not given to the taxing entities that would normally get the money. They have budgets. Instead of splitting those budgets up among all the taxpayers in the jurisdiction, it’s split up between all the taxpayers less those in the urban renewal area. In terms you might understand, the other taxpayers are subsidizing the urban renewal area’s portion of each jurisdiction’s budget.

    And last I heard, the city of Boise is more than the downtown and contains, gasp, dreaded suburban areas. And those, gasp, dreaded suburban areas actually do pay taxes! Imagine that?! So as you try to play your class/geographic warfare card as liberals are wont to do, remember that keeping taxes in certain areas is not something a city should do. After all, it’s the CITY of Boise, not the City of “Greater Downtown”.

  19. @bc:

    -“Parking? There is plenty of parking downtown if you just use your brain.” BUT ITS NOT FREE LIKE OUTSIDE OF DOWNTOWN, AND THE RULES ARE STUPID, AND I CAN’T PARK AT THE BUSINESS.




    (sorry about the block letters… had to differentiate the quotes/answers)

  20. Nan emouse:

    You don’t know me. I question authority more than anyone. In fact, the “authority” around these parts is the ultra conservative tax-o-phobes in the State Legislature. They can’t even give Boise the right to run local option tax elections. What’s up with that? Ketchum and Coeur d’Alene have it.

    But forget that. You still haven’t crunched any numbers and shown how much our taxes, yes I am outside a URD, how much our property taxes will go down if URDs in Boise are eliminated. Without crunching the numbers and proving it on paper you have no argument whatsoever. You’ve got nothing but bluster. There’s a reason your teachers in high school math class always yelled “show your work.” Or maybe you missed that part.

    And you still haven’t answered why Goodman Oil and Bob Rice Ford properties are assessed so low. We are subsidizing them for the owner’s selfish land banking efforts. And guess what, they are holding on until the River Park, Esther Simplot Park and the 30th St Extension are built and then they’re going to sell and make a fortune off the public investment in the neighborhood. Mark my words on this. Talk about riding on the backs of taxpayers.

    Note: Bob Rice Ford property is for sale for $10 million which is ridiculously overpriced. Ada County has it assessed at only $3 million.

  21. I don’t think one can accurately state that urban renewal districts have an impact on taxes outside the district one way or the other. That would require a time machine and Mr. Peabody.

    This guy sums it it well:

  22. Oh noncynic. You are more dyspeptic and grouchy than ever.

    Apparently you believe that private property rights should never hold primacy over what you as a government goon want to do with them. Why shouldn’t Goodman Oil and Bob Rice hold onto the property until they can get what they want for them? “Because they are selfish” sayeth you. Hey, they own it!

    And still beating that local option tax drum eh? Let me guess, the first thing we should vote on is money for a trolley downtown that goes nowhere.

  23. Well bc, what say you?

    Tired old buildings are not safe and expensive to keep up, just ask the fire/structural code inspectors what he/she thinks of these old relics. I think you used the words cost effective.

    And talk to me some more about why the burbs grew. Don’t forget the near tripling of our national population since WWII.

    I’m going to go shopping now at a one-stop super-store. I own their stock and they are making a killing for me too. A real rainmaker for the local area with lots of former Micron workers getting by on less. They have super cool a/c and I can park near the door for free too. Bet I can leave the widows down without anyone even looking twice. Unlikely to be dodging bikes/pedestrians/drunks crossing against the light, so it’s a real nice experience overall.

  24. Yes the population grew. But that’s irrelevant to the issue at hand.

    The issue is where the tax money collected gets spent. Yes the suburbs have tax payers who contributed to all the suburban infrastructure. But you seem to be incapable of admitting that those in greater downtown, north end, east end, west end have also been paying taxes and at higher rates per square foot and have gotten very little in return since the 50s or 60s.

    Are you disagreeing? Please point out the major public investment projects in the greater downtown area over the last 30 years. Maintenance doesn’t count.

    And cut the false equivalency bunk. I am not against private property rights. However, as I’ve pointed out, cities have very little power to rid themselves of derelict properties which add little to the tax coffers.

    Would your rather Boise City take Goodman Oil by eminent domain? Frankly I think they should. In the 70s they took quite a few properties near there to use as the greenbelt. Those cases, iirc, went to court and the city won. You think the Goodmans are angels? HAH, there is plenty of info to the contrary from various sources.

    So choose your poison; 1) status quo ghetto, 2) URD organized and overseen redevelopment, 3) or eminent domain ala Kelo Decision.

    Yes, private property rights are very important but so is the greater good.

    And you still haven’t shown on paper how much taxes will go down if URDs are disbanded.

  25. Idaho urban renewal would be fine with a couple of changes. First would be to sunset the district after “x” number of years. Eventually these URD’s need to be deemed successful.

    Next I would call for Routine external audits for these authority/districts. Here is an interesting article about defaults on bonds by local agencies across the country and how it affects taxpayers.

    EDITOR NOTE–Clancy, once again we thank you for the research. We need to watch out for a baseball park campaign which we fear is coming soon.

  26. @bc, option 4) Doze it and grow crops. This will reset the overgrowth of the city government also.

  27. Clancy;

    The 3 current URDs in Boise are slated to sunset. I can’t remember the exact figures. I agree with external audits and possibly some kind of direct election. But direct election makes no sense. If we go that route then we should just balkanize Boise. That is, each neighborhood should just secede when their needs aren’t met.

    Downtown Boise is unique in this valley and therefore has different needs that need different solutions.

    Indeed, La Jolla Ca has often threatened to secede from San Diego and La Jolla has the money and power to do it.

    What bonds have been issued by either of the three Boise URDs?

  28. cynic,
    There are sunset/termination dates but they don’t seem to correspond to any term set by the State Statutes 50-2903 or 50-2904. CCDC’s seem to go longer and may have been extended over the years. And CCDC does have debt(bonds) related to the building of parking garages. In 2009, this amounted to $70 million.

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