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Urban renewal under attack


Two bills before the Idaho Legislature, clearly aimed to restrain Boise City councilors and the mayor, are worthy of support from voters.

In a nutshell they seek to require citizen approval before urban renewal funds can be used for construction of either a library or sports stadium.

Urban renewal has been abused state wide with cities and the Greater Boise Auditorium District leading the way in a scheme to launder property tax money through local urban renewal agencies to avoid a citizen vote on “profound debt projects.”

Idaho’s constitution (article VIII, sec 3) mandates that local governments seek permission from voters to go into debt. Typically this would be a bond for a school, city hall, auditorium, library, sports stadium, etc. By laundering tax funds diverted to urban renewal agencies, the politicos avoid a public vote.

Here’s how it works. Once an urban renewal district is formed (a designated area within a jurisdiction), the tax on any improvements or appreciated value is diverted to the UR agency–the CCDC in Bois’s case. The original idea was to improve an area, increase the property value along with taxes, and everyone was a winner.

Somewhere along the line the crafty politicos changed the rules to allow urban renewal agencies to finance projects for 20 years without citizen approval, thus diverting the taxes while requiring cities to provide services like police, fire and schools for free. Money laundering, euphemistically termed “tax increment financing” is the method used.

Even more egregious is the practice of local governments getting the urban renewal agencies to use their bonding authority to build major structures such as auditoriums, libraries, and police stations making an end run around the constitutional mandate of citizen approval. The scheme has the urban renewal folks owning the building–even a city hall–and rending it back to the local government. The Ada Courthouse was owned for years by CCDC to avoid citizen approval of the project.

The two proposed laws deserve public support and approval to rein-in the overzealous local governments.

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