The legislative interim committee on urban renewal has wrapped up its meeting today, and won’t meet again until January, when it will review a new draft of possible legislation on Idaho urban renewal laws. Gone will be two sections the panel rejected today on penalties and reporting requirements, and on lawsuits over damages caused by urban renewal. Asked if those two sections are coming back in a different form, committee Co-Chair Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, said, “I hope not.” He said, “Trying to make an individual liable in that manner is just not going to happen. That’s not real.”
Changes are in the works for the portion of the legislation that would ban the use of urban renewal funds for most public buildings. It’s not clear yet how that will end up, but it likely won’t include a $1 million threshold for the ban, instead looking at other criteria; it may or may not allow such projects with a vote of the people; and it’s an open question whether libraries would be among the forbidden projects. Committee members argued both sides of that question today, with several saying libraries spur economic development in their surrounding areas.
Sen. Maryanne Jordan, D-Boise, said library construction doesn’t take a building off the tax rolls, because libraries already are off the tax rolls. Rep. Robert Anderst, R-Nampa, said, “I’m comfortable with the way we’ve defined it right now. I don’t think anybody’s going to talk me into the idea that libraries are a great economic development tool. ... But I’m happy to continue to have the conversation as we go through the draft.”
Rep. Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d’Alene, said she agreed with Anderst. “I think everyone who has a computer has a library, and I know I’m working on mine every day,” she said. “But public buildings are something that we have to be concerned about.” Sims said she’s pleased with the committee’s efforts so far, including combining two existing laws into one. “So I’m looking forward and I am more hopeful than I was in the beginning that we could do something, and that we would do something,” she said.
Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, said urban renewal agencies don’t set out to take buildings off the tax rolls. “There isn’t an urban renewal agency out there that can say, ‘Know what we’re going to do? We’re going to build a city hall, and a library and a fire station, and we’ll pay for it out of revenue allocation.’ Because there isn’t any revenue. They have to have some other activity going on to generate those revenues to do those things.” Public projects generally are added later, once renewal has generated revenues, he said. “But I do think we should have some limitations on when we should use public monies.”
All members of the committee complimented the co-chairs and staff for their work, and Johnson complimented the committee members for listening to one another. Said Clow, “I’m amazed that we’ve gotten this far along.”