The City's Pulse Newsletter
Enough of the Luxury Condos Already---We Need Jobs!
I was invited to talk about LCDC last week, one of my favorite topics. The Coeur d'Alene Board of Realtors asked both Dan Gookin and me to present information and answer their questions.  Tony Berns, Executive Director of the LCDC, was brought in for the second hour of the two hour brown-bag lunch, to share his differing perspective. 

Dan and I are both concerned citizens and were happy to speak with this group because we are seeking responsible changes to the way LCDC operates. Our current mayor and city council are supposed to oversee the urban renewal agency but have taken no action. Tony Berns is the sole employee of LCDC and is among the highest paid public officials in the state, making more than even the Governor.  It's unlikely that Tony wants any changes to LCDC; he's probably happy with the status quo. So we had quite divergent viewpoints to offer.

Our contrasting ideas were not allowed in the room at the same time, however.  We were asked to keep both our presence and our presentations separate. It would have been great to have an open, public conversation with Tony on the important issue of urban renewal, but maybe next time. 

The realtors were quite attentive and interested in both the positive and negative impacts of LCDC.  They asked some astute questions and quickly understood the tax repercussions of the 4.3% increase in property taxes for Kootenai County residents, with the total 10% property tax increase for CdA citizens, caused by urban renewal.

One aspect of LCDC that grabbed special attention was the issue of jobs.

Urban renewal can be a strong tool for attracting jobs. Post Falls' urban renewal agency stated at a forum last spring that its main focus is to bring in jobs.  By contrast, CdA's Mayor Bloem told LCDC at last year's retreat that, "Your #1 goal is to acquire property".  The temporary construction jobs and seasonal, entry level positions that have been created by LCDC's projects are not careers for people who want to live here long term.

But now there's some new hope on the subject of jobs. Our local Job Service has been awarded a $250,000 federal Regional Innovation Grant to study and promote job creation in the five northern counties of Idaho.  Way to go! 

Last week, I attended the first meeting of the community group invited to work on this grant.  There were about 50 people filling the Job Service conference room. The group was made up in large part by educators, business people and resource providers like Jobs Plus, the Small Business Development Center and more.

The energy in the room was positive; people seemed aware of the urgent need for action.  I love meeting with business people because they get right to the point and have a clear commitment to problem solving.  That's why I have high hopes for this group; I expect this mix of people to generate a realistic plan that will offer diverse help all over our northern counties.  We need serious answers.

Maybe LCDC can learn from this grant also. Perhaps they can start to attract businesses with long term jobs.  We need to find a better balance in our community to protect citizens' futures and promote year round residents who want to become part of our wonderful North Idaho lifestyle.  Yes, there is hope, but only if we work together to refocus assets and energies toward our essential need for good, career level jobs.
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Dear Newsletter Readers,

Again, here is my column from last Sunday's Press.  It was interesting to speak with the Realtors, they had some great questions.  After Dan Gookin and I left the room, Tony Berns came in to answer questions.  I was told later by someone who stayed on, that Tony was asked directly about the tax impact of LCDC on the county.  He said he came prepared for that question and had some sort of chart that showed the direct impact of LCDC on all every property owners in Kootenai County is just over 3%.  This sounds accurate because my information shows 4.3% for all urban renewal in the county, which means the Post Falls and Hayden urban renewal districts only have a combined impact of about 1%.

It was more interesting, however, that someone next asked Tony about the tax impact of LCDC on the property owners inside Coeur d'Alene.  Tony answered that he didn't know that number.  He didn't know?  He's the Executive Director and makes $120,000 per year.  Isn't it his job to know?  Well the numbers don't lie, and the tax impact is an additional 6.6% for CdA taxpayers, bringing the total to 10%.

The tax impact is high in CdA because LCDC  skims the tax increment off all of our downtown commercial core and more, unlike Post Falls which has small districts and takes the tax increment from only that specific area.  Because CdA's whole downtown, Midtown, NW Blvd and Seltice are in our two big districts, that huge tax increment goes to LCDC, not the city.  The rest of us have to pay more city taxes to make up for what goes to LCDC.  

If you want a better explanation with maps and photos, the easy-to-understand, 10 page booklet that Dan and I put together for our presentation is available and free.  You can just click on this link and print a copy: http://opencda.com/?page_id=847

Have a great week!  --Mary

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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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