Bladine: Take closer look at urban renewal

Yamhill County commissioners do well to raise questions about the finances of urban renewal (UR), as detailed this week by reporter Nicole Montesano. But those questions deserve a few questions in response.

Commissioners correctly identified how UR works: With set timelines and investment totals, increased taxes on property in UR districts are diverted from government coffers to development plans for the district. That includes marginal tax increases on existing property – a loss of revenue for government – and full taxation on new construction responding to the promise of continuing UR developments.

When UR district timelines or debt limits are reached, all those tax increases flow back into local and state government. That result speaks to the financial success of UR, but the greater value is revitalization of important urban neighborhoods and commercial areas that otherwise would continue to languish.

A quote attributed to Commissioner Lindsay Berschauer said: “I’ve been studying for about 12 years and so far, I have not seen an urban renewal that was successful and produced what was promised.”

There’s a claim crying out for documentation.

More than a few people consider the Portland River District UR project a success, with its $350 million project for infrastructure and parking; redevelopment of the historic Meier & Frank block; development of new park space; financing for 3,000 affordable housing units, and more.

McMinnville’s $30 million UR project arguably is a success in the making, already generating $600,000 in annual “tax increment financing” and growing rapidly. That revenue stream, combined with other creative financing efforts, should justify consideration of a major bond issue to finance significant developments.

What about all the other UR project in Oregon? All unsuccessful? Or, should we seek out other opinions?

When commissioners object to more UR projects, there should be full financial transparency. How much otherwise-guaranteed tax revenue will be diverted from Yamhill County? How much new tax revenue germinated by UR will flow into long-term community investment? How much future tax revenue will Yamhill County and other governmental bodies receive when the UR development projects end?

Citizens like UR projects that repurpose existing property taxes to carefully planned urban development; cities lose tax revenue for a time, but about two-thirds of their UR development costs come from the state and other local governments.

So, it’s good to think through all the financial ramifications of urban renewal developments. But let’s make sure we ask all the questions, and get all the answers.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@newsregister.com or 503-687-1223.


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