Wednesday, December 19, 2012

More information needed from URA

Is it possible that “less is more” for Ketchum’s Urban Renewal Agency: The less information available to the public, the more likely people are to agree to its plans?  Certainly, the URA’s recent workshop asking for citizen input on future projects was an empty exercise lacking transparency and meaningful content.  For example: 

- Sun Valley Co.’s private property at River Run, annexed into Ketchum in 2010, was enthusiastically designated an urban renewal area at the time. Yet, the designation (questionable?) was not among the URA achievements touted at the workshop; in fact, few citizens realize it has taken place.  

- The public was asked for input regarding future URA projects, yet up-to-date financial projections to assist our thinking was unavailable.

- The projects suggested by the URA were, for the most part, insubstantial in terms of economic development and, in at least one case, not even eligible for URA funds.

There are other issues. Ketchum’s government website, the first logical information checkpoint, has no link to its separate URA website. A URA commissioner who sold URA bonds to his clients before becoming commissioner claims fiduciary responsibility to the URA at times and to his clients at others. The current “URA Assessed Value and Revenue Estimate” going forward is opaque—perhaps incorrect?  Check it out.   

URAs can be terrific tools for economic development and have been widely used in the United States.  Unfortunately, they can be manipulated for private interests or simply unsuccessful.  Whether that is true for Ketchum’s URA is hard to discern; the information compiled for public review is typically incomplete, out of date, inaccurate or spread across disparate documents, making public evaluation difficult. 

Jima Rice

Blaine County

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