Wednesday, March 2, 2011

URA vows to write ‘reminder’ about housing

Stipulation says money cannot be redirected


By TREVON MILLIARD
Express Staff Writer

Trish Wilson said she was "pleased" to hear that the Ketchum Urban Renewal Agency, which she recently joined, will be writing itself a reminder on every annual financial statement that it owes $1.49 million to the city. And that reminder will appear every year until the money is either used for affordable housing—as the city restricted it—or returned to the city.

Wilson is pleased because even she, a URA board member, was unaware of the debt until several citizens complained last fall after seeing that the 2009-10 financial statements didn't include the debt reminder even though the URA claimed it would do so.

The $1.49 million in question was transferred from the city's affordable-housing fund a few years ago so the URA could buy a pair of properties. One is the vacant land at the corner of First Street and Washington Avenue. The other is the land containing the visitor center on Sun Valley Road and Ketchum Town Square. Neither property has yet been used for affordable housing.

Wilson, who joined the URA board a couple of years after the city money was borrowed, is an example of why several residents have fought three years for this footnote reminder.

"Why is it so hard to put a footnote on it?" Ketchum resident Phyllis Shafran asked the council on Dec. 16. "That's all I want, so that in 2035 when we're all gone and dead, someone will say, 'What happened to that million four.' That's all I ask for."

Ever since this footnote fight began, URA board members—which prior to the recent addition of Wilson and another community member was only City Council members and the mayor—have argued that it has always been their "intention" to use the $1.49 million for affordable housing. Board member and City Councilman Curtis Kemp reiterated the URA's "good intentions" at the URA's Feb. 22 meeting.

Shafran and others aren't calling the current URA board's intentions into question so much as the fact that those sitting in charge now will likely be gone in a few years. Elected city leaders leave the URA when they leave office. One of the community members has a two-year term, and the other has a four-year term. The URA will be around until 2035, meaning many board members will come and go along the way.

What if the URA doesn't follow through and provide this $1.49 million worth of affordable housing in a couple of years, 10 years or the maximum 25 years? Who's to say those in charge will remember or even know of the loan obtained long before their terms, unless a reminder is staring them straight in the face, clearly spelled out in every annual financial report?

The URA unanimously passed a resolution on Feb. 23 to include the footnote in the next end-of-year financials for the 2010-11 fiscal year and again every year as long as the $1.49 million worth of affordable housing isn't provided.

Board member and Councilwoman Nina Jonas said she's "concerned" that history may repeat itself. The URA board vowed to include this footnote previously and never did so when the end-of-year audit came around. The plan is that passing a formal resolution this time would hold the URA to its word.

Trevon Milliard: tmilliard@mtexpress.com




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