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Does Prineville need a makeover?
City staff exploring the idea of establishing urban renewal districts
During a recent informational session on urban renewal programs, City staff looked at downtown Prineville as one possible area for improvement. The City has not chosen to create an urban renewal district at this time, and held the meeting to learn more about them if they choose to go that route.
January 14, 2013
In an effort to enhance the community and potentially boost tax revenues, local leaders gathered last week for an informational session on urban renewal districts.
Prineville City Manager Steve Forrester initially broached the subject and instigated the meeting.
“It occurred to me that we have some potential expansion going on in the community,” he explained, citing the Facebook and Apple data centers as a primary driver. “As a result, I think that is going to drive some other expansion in the community.”
Forrester noted that local leaders have also discussed building a new hospital or new school, and he feels that those upgraded amenities could help attract retail businesses like Fred Meyer or Safeway.
The urban renewal meeting drew City and Crook County officials and staff as well as leaders from Parks and Recreation, the Chamber of Commerce, and local law enforcement. Urban Renewal Program consultant Elaine Howard provided a detailed explanation of the program and highlighted its pros and cons.
“I wanted her to come here and explain the fundamentals of the process,” Forrester said. “I wanted her to give us some examples good and bad.”
Howard explained that urban renewal programs are authorized by state law and implemented locally to help a community improve the aesthetics and infrastructure in a blighted portion of town.
“Typically, blight covers underdevelopment or underutilization of properties,” she said. “Blight can be established by inadequacies of streets, utilities, or basic infrastructure.”
The program funds capital improvement projects in a district by freezing the local property tax base for a set number of years and contributing any future tax growth to an urban renewal account. For example, if a city was earning $100 million in tax revenue in 2013, and increased to $105 million in 2014, they would allocate that $5 million of increased revenue to an urban renewal account. The rest would go to the usual taxing districts. If the tax income grew to $110 million in 2015, the city would allocate $10 million to the account.
Howard also made a point of clarifying that the implementation of an urban renewal district does not raise the amount of taxes paid by citizens. It merely allocates a portion of them to a different account.
Over a period of time, the account reaches a point where they can use it to fund projects to enhance the chosen district. Such upgrades could include aesthetic improvements to downtown storefronts or new artistic accents as well as less visible changes like improved water and sewer infrastructure.
Howard repeatedly stressed the importance of public involvement as a city determines their urban renewal program.
“Plans are adopted by establishing public input,” she said. “That is a requirement of urban renewal.” She explained that such input opportunities could include public meetings or other outreach efforts.
“The whole goal of urban renewal is if you take this money away from taxing jurisdictions, they need to see some benefit at the end.”
Crook County Planning Director Scott Edelman felt that local leaders appreciated the information provided in the meeting, and was encouraged by the questions people asked.
“They were right on target — exactly the kinds of things we needed to know about.”
Concerns primarily revolved around the impact of a frozen tax base. For example, the Prineville Police Department funds law enforcement with general fund dollars.
“Our biggest challenge here in the City of Prineville is we have a general fund that is in distress,” said Prineville Police Chief Eric Bush. “We underfund our police department by a significant amount and under-staff it, and we do it because we don’t have enough money in the general fund. We’re talking about freezing any potential future increases in the general fund, but yet increasing the infrastructure and bringing more people or more things into that area with no way to pay for those increases or demands for services.”
Bush stressed that he does not oppose an urban renewal district in Prineville, but he does consider it a risk, and he wants the community to understand the long-term effects.
In spite of the concerns, Edelman felt the community leaders who attended the meeting would consider conducting a feasibility study to determine how an urban renewal district would work in Prineville — and what part of town they would target.
City planning staff initially identified downtown Prineville as one possible location and selected two other neighborhoods lacking City services as other possibilities. Edelman said they may consider others if they choose to move forward with the idea.
Whether they proceed remains uncertain at this point. For Forrester, the information provided at the meeting will serve as another option for future growth.
“I’m not saying this is what I want to do or what the City should do,” he said. “I am saying it is a tool that we need to understand.”