It was not a surprise to read last Sunday's guest opinion by the LCDC board, where it effusively complimented the "exceptionally intelligent" business sense of our mayor and city council. After all, LCDC is appointed and supervised by the mayor and council, who are the only officials that have power over the way our urban renewal agency behaves with taxpayer money.
What was a surprise is LCDC's misrepresentation about its ability to buy and sell land. LCDC is different than many other urban renewal agencies in our state because it actively seeks to acquire and hold land. Many agencies -- Post Falls is one -- choose not to. They feel it would take land off the tax rolls and be unfair competition with private business.
LCDC currently owns a dozen parcels of land. Some include homes or buildings, some do not. LCDC meeting minutes in 2004 show that one property in midtown was offered to Terry Lee, brother of City Councilwoman and LCDC board member Deanna Goodlander. There was never a for-sale sign on the land. There was never a public notice or bidding process. A deal was worked and reworked without success for more than a year. LCDC would sell the land for $33,000. There would also be additional tax increment help given, but it was not enough. Terry and his nephew, Phil, who is Deanna's son, asked for more money to make their project go, but the efforts were finally dropped in 2005.
How does LCDC get the money for these kinds of offers? If you read the opinion piece last week, you may have the wrong impression.
Members wrote that the money they use is entirely from "property taxes generated solely by the approved project itself." That's not really a clear explanation; it doesn't tell the whole story. The money that pours into the coffers of LCDC comes from the tax increment skimmed off every single building in their two very large, sprawling districts in our town. Old buildings, new buildings and empty properties; those that have received LCDC help and those that have not -- all have their tax increment sent to LCDC instead of to the city and county.
Want some examples? Here are three actual 2007 property tax bills from within the urban renewal districts. You can see how much of the total tax payment goes to LCDC and how little goes to the city and county.
Property #1:Total tax bill of $9,100 Amount to City & County: $347 Dollars to LCDC: $8,753.
Property #2: Total tax bill of $34,393 Amount to City & County: $856 Dollars to LCDC: $33,537
Property #3: Total tax bill of $23,907 Amount to City & County: $775 Dollars to LCDC: $23,132.
This is how LCDC gets money -- and their total tax increment goes up dramatically every year. All of us in Coeur d'Alene and Kootenai County who live outside the urban renewal districts pay more on our property taxes to make up for the shortages to the city and county.
LCDC has used some of the tax increment money to hire a public relations firm to help it improve its relationship with the community. It has also used some to hire lobbyists in Boise to work against any changes to the loophole-filled urban renewal laws.
By having enormous districts with vague goals and the maximum 24-year timeline allowed by law, the LCDC basically accumulates a huge stash of money. With this money, it can make big public spending decisions without asking the citizens; it can bypass the voters. The mayor and city council seem to like this, also. They refuse to make changes to this board they appointed and are charged by law to supervise. LCDC has become their "bucket of money," as one councilman called it.
Yes, folks, these are our tax dollars at work. So it shouldn't come as a surprise to any of us that LCDC needs public relations help.