BOISE - Seven bills to limit urban renewal districts’ authority in Idaho were proposed in a rarely-convened House committee on Wednesday, including one from a lawmaker who said if people just carry guns, the state won’t need urban renewal to get rid of crime and blight.
“A lot of people know that … communities where it’s legal to carry weapons for self-protection have a lower crime rate, and that has been pointed out by numerous things that I’ve read,” Rep. Robert Schaefer, R-Nampa, told the House Local Government Committee as he proposed legislation to eliminate urban renewal entirely.
Committee members had lots of questions, but introduced Schaefer’s bill anyway, along with five others. One measure, from Rep. Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d’Alene, was sent back for changes rather than introduced.
Sims, a longtime critic of urban renewal efforts in Coeur d’Alene who once called the city’s involvement in developing the Kroc Community Center a “criminal conspiracy,” told the panel, “I can’t believe that I’m finally here and I’m finally talking about urban renewal. … It’s been on my mind for many years.”
She proposed legislation to require countywide elections for urban renewal board members. Her bill also would forbid those board members to hold any other elected office, but acting Rep. Julie Chadderdon, R-Coeur d’Alene, a longtime GOP precinct committee officer, suggested excluding positions like hers from that restriction.
Sims agreed to the change, but it meant she would have to try again to introduce her bill.
“To a great extent urban renewal taxpayer dollars have been abused by many throughout the state,” Sims declared. “That’s what happens when the law is incorrectly written — predators move in and they exploit its good intentions.”
Tony Berns, executive director of the Lake City Development Corp. in Coeur d’Alene, said the agency’s done “tons” for the community. “There are people like Ms. Sims and others that just philosophically disagree with urban renewal,” Berns said; he called it “a very vital, locally controlled economic development tool.”
Berns said lawmakers in the past have rejected the idea of countywide elections for city urban renewal agencies because that just doesn’t make sense - people from outside the district wouldn’t be in tune with its priorities because they don’t live there, he said.
Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, introduced two measures, one to require a countywide two-thirds public vote for urban renewal bonds, and the other to add public hearing requirements.
House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, proposed a compromise bill that he’s co-sponsoring with the Meridian Urban Renewal District to make various changes, including requiring a public vote to start a district, setting time limits and requiring consent from farmland owners before they’re included in a district. Moyle also proposed a separate bill to let any taxing district “opt out” of an urban renewal district when it’s formed.
Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, proposed legislation to require advance, narrow descriptions of urban renewal projects and binding expiration dates, and require unexpended money to be refunded to local taxing districts.
Similar proposals died last year after long hearings in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee; this year, proponents headed instead to the rarely-convened House Local Government Committee, chaired by Rep. Lenore Hardy Barrett, R-Challis, to bypass the tax committee.
Wednesday was the first time this year that Barrett’s committee has met. Barrett said she was thrilled to oversee the urban renewal debate and has been upset about urban renewal districts for her entire 18 years in the Legislature. “It ain’t been getting any better,” Barrett said.