Friday, March 2, 2012

URA wrecking crew should back off


There's a faction in the Idaho Legislature that hates cities.

The faction includes sponsors of a long list of bills that ultimately would make Urban Renewal Agencies useless for their intended purpose of revitalizing and rebuilding communities.

This year's eight URA-bashing bills range from one that would ban cities from creating any new URAs to others that would pick existing URA revenues to pieces or hamstring them severely.

The URA wrecking crew includes Reps. Kathleen Sims, Bob Nonini and Marge Chadderdon, all Coeur d'Alene; Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls; Rep Bob Schaefer, R-Nampa; Rep. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly; and Rep. Mike Moyle, R-Star.

Urban renewal agencies can do something cities can't. For a specified period of time they can keep property tax revenues that would otherwise go to a county and use them within the city to fight decay and improve the economy.

If the Legislature had given cities the same power or home rule, which would allow them to enact voter-approved taxes to support locally identified needs, URAs might not be necessary. But the Legislature long ago tied cities' hands and made it unreasonably difficult to meet even basic needs for police and fire protection, and water, sewer and road systems.

URAs can be a powerful aid in creating livable communities. Ketchum's URA was instrumental in creating the city's Fourth Street Heritage Corridor with its slower traffic, bike lane, wide sidewalks and artwork. It's a street that people like to stroll. Along with the Town Square, it's provided the tourist community with a true center.

The Ketchum URA also overhauled a deteriorating city building that fronts the Town Square, leased it to a coffee company and helped create the area's only full-time visitor center—important in a town where visitors are the sole source of income.

A URA in the city of Twin Falls was instrumental in helping to beat out other locales and convince yogurt manufacturer Chobani to build a plant that's expected to employ 400 people when it's finished.

The Legislature should put away its green-eyed jealousy at cities' success in making URAs work to their benefit. It's really not becoming.

Instead of holding the fiscal reins so tight that cities can't move, the Legislature needs to let URAs work. Like other public agencies, what URAs do may not be popular 100 percent of the time, but they give cities important resources they can use to make their downtowns prosperous.

To oppose prosperity in these hard times is akin to opposing lifeboats on the Titanic. Idaho cities need more lifeboats, not fewer.




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