There’s a clear split on the Legislature’s urban renewal interim committee over a proposal to ban the use of urban renewal funds for most public buildings, but the majority of the panel appears to favor some version of the move. “We’re talking public buildings that come off tax rolls,” said Co-Chair Rep. Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa. “And we think about a process that would involve the taxpayers being involved, spending their tax dollars, on projects or buildings that do not raise revenue, do not specifically create new jobs, i.e. economic development.”
Rep. Hy Kloc, D-Boise, argued for removing libraries from the list of buildings that couldn’t be funded with urban renewal funds. “In my opinion, and I think an opinion that’s shared by a number of people, is that libraries have an economic impact on the area that they are built in. For example, in my neighborhood, the Collister Shopping Center was basically empty before the library went into the Collister Center, and now the center happens to be full, and it happens because of the number of people that come to a location.” He said Boise’s main downtown library draws 78,000 visitors a month. “Those people go out and do other things besides go to the library,” he said. “That ... adds to the economic viability of the area that the library is located in.”
Sen. Maryanne Jordan, D-Boise, said when a city library branch went in at an old shopping center at Cole and Ustick, private investment followed, including privately funded renovation of both that center and another across the street. Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, noted that that library wasn’t an urban renewal project; Jordan said the city built it and paid cash.
The draft legislation would ban uses of urban renewal funds for the identified projects; it lacks a provision that some lawmakers had discussed to allow them, but only with a public vote. Legislative staffer Mike Nugent said a two-thirds vote would be required to issue public bonds to finance the buildings. But other committee members noted that no vote is required if there’s no borrowing, if a government agency spends cash.
The provision would ban the use of urban renewal funds for projects that cost more than $1 million where the urban renewal funds would make up 51 percent or more of the total project costs, and the project is “construction of a city hall, library or municipal administrative office building used primarily as an office building that will not be subject to property taxation.”
Jordan also objected to the $1 million limit for public buildings, saying in some small communities, that could cover an entire urban renewal project, while in a large city it could be a much smaller piece. Rep. Robert Anderst, R-Nampa, said he’d be willing to consider a different threshold than $1 million, such as a percentage of the value of the revenue-allocation district. “I’d be the first one to acknowledge it’s pretty arbitrary,” he said of the $1 million. “I’m perfectly willing to work through that.”