The City's Pulse Newsletter

Changes are needed in Idaho's urban renewal law

Dear Newsletter Readers,

There's been a lot of fall out about my column and newsletter from last week, featuring Charlie Nipp and Mike Kennedy.  The whole issue of citizen intimidation by local officials seems to have touched a nerve, and people are upset.  They expect their government to be respectful and honest, pro-actively disclosing all required information and doing so with a willing attitude.

On a related topic, the legislature in Boise is starting to wrap up loose ends for this session.  Although there were some high hopes for meaningful changes to the Urban Renewal Law, it looks like nothing will get done, save the valiant effort by Rep. Phil Hart, of Athol.  The power of urban renewal in our state is huge. They hire professional lobbyists who are down in Boise all the time to work against changes in the law...our tax dollars at work against us.

The following is a guest column I wrote to explain and support Rep. Hart's bill.  The sad news is that yesterday the House gutted sections 2 & 3 of his bill (see below), so all that remains is the time line limitation.  Nonetheless, we must continue to educate the public and, to that end, my column below was printed in the Idaho Statesman today.  The Statesman is the main newspaper in Boise so, hopefully, it will make some impact.

Have a great weekend and, again, Go Zags!  --Mary


Mary Souza: Changes are needed in Idaho's urban renewal law

BY MARY SOUZA - Idaho Statesman,  Published: 03/26/09

Urban Renewal is used differently all across our state.  Some cities use it for job creation, some for infrastructure or beautification of public spaces and some use it to promote private, luxury living.  However rightly or wrongly it is applied, the Idaho Urban Renewal law, which was first written in 1967, needs to be updated.

There’s $3.6 billion in tax increment value controlled by Urban Renewal Agencies (URAs) in the State of Idaho.  And this number will grow faster than the economy will recover.

Taxpayers have a serious problem right now because URAs are both rich and powerful.  They use public tax increment money for lobbyists to stop any changes in the porous old laws.  The vague legal language and loopholes, along with the complexity of the subject keeps most citizens, as well as many lawmakers, from taking the time to understand urban renewal.  This reluctance helps ensure the stealth success of this little known tax impact.

But now we’re in a serious economic crunch and every tax impact must be examined. Our elected officials should take a comprehensive look and rewrite the urban renewal law to protect the rights of the taxpayers.

State Representative, Phil Hart, R-Athol, is bringing forward this year’s only effort to tighten this law.  He is offering HB244 for consideration of the whole House later this week.  Rep. Hart’s bill offers three basic changes:

1.    It clarifies the time line for an urban renewal district’s revenue allocation area to the 24 years allowed now by law, and bans an extension of those limits.

2.    The bill requires a yearly report of the base value and the total assessed value of property within the district in order to insure that those values comply with existing Idaho Code.

3.    Before any new revenue allocation area could be created, this bill would require approval by a majority of the taxing districts in the impact area whose tax levy rate will have to increase to compensate for the tax dollars that will go to the urban renewal agency.

This is a good start, and I applaud Rep. Hart for his work on this complex legislation!

By requiring impacted taxing districts to sign off on the creation of a new revenue allocation area, we will get better planning and proposals from the Urban Renewal Districts, we will get community buy in, and we will be consistent with existing Idaho public policy where we need a majority approval for raising taxes or incurring public debt.

Urban renewal is statewide problem, affecting every region of Idaho.  Out of the 44 counties in our state, more than half have URAs within their borders, and the amount of tax increment in certain areas is startling.  Caldwell and Jerome have almost 20% of their city’s total tax base in tax increment.  Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls and Spirit Lake are each above 12%, Burley has more than 25% and Dover tops the list with over 40% of its assessed value in tax increment. The associated impact is felt in the pocketbook of every taxpayer in these cities and counties.

Please contact your State Representatives right now, and tell them you want responsible changes to the Urban Renewal Law. 

You can access their names, phone numbers and email addresses by going to:, or call the Capitol at (208) 332-1933.

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Mary Souza has been a concerned citizen of CdA for over 20 years. She's a local small business owner, former P&Z Commissioner and wrote an opinion column in the CdA Press on local issues.  Her opinions are her own.

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