Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Ketchum residents vote on URA priorities

URA reps explain urban renewal nuts & bolts


By BRENNAN REGO
Express Staff Writer

Express graphic by Kristen Kaiser
This graph demonstrates how a URA supports urban renewal and increases assessed property value within its district. In this case, the URA invests in an initial project and property values are expected to go up. The resulting increase in property tax revenues form the “incremental assessed value” triangle in the graph. The URA is allowed to use that money to invest in more projects, and the cycle perpetuates. Without a URA, the property value would remain at the “base assessed value” level.

Building a new City Hall was the idea that got the most votes from attendees at two recent “visioning sessions” organized by the Ketchum Urban Renewal Agency to gauge public opinion on what it should do next.

The first session took place on Dec. 5 with an attendance of about 50 people and the second took place Thursday with an attendance of about 15. Executive Director Gary Marks said in an interview that the URA will review a combined tabulation of the attendees’ votes from both sessions during a meeting in the “near future,” then develop a list of goals for the agency based on the public feedback.

“The purpose was to get public direction on where the agency ought to be focusing its efforts,” he said.

The combined results list the following projects as the public’s top picks.

No. 1: “Relocating city facilities” (45 votes, idea written in by attendees). Marks said a project such as that is within the scope of the URA, but that it is too early to know if the URA board of commissioners would support it. However, he did say he expects the board to give it “a lot of attention.” Lisa Horowitz, a member of the URA staff and Ketchum’s community and economic development director, said construction of a new city hall could involve the URA by generating more property tax revenue from surrounding properties. However, she said, “there may be other projects that the URA feels would increase values more.”

No 2: Affordable housing at First Street and Washington Avenue (22 votes, idea provided by Ketchum URA). The city has approved an affordable housing project on URA-owned property at that location, but due to federal funding constraints, the so-called Washington Place project remains unbuilt.

No. 3: “A geothermal outdoor pool/park” (19 votes, idea written in by attendees).

The sessions also served as opportunities for the URA to provide information to the public about how URAs work. At the first session, Marks ran through the nuts and bolts and at the second, Ketchum URA Commission Chair Mark Eshman gave the presentation.

According to Eshman and Marks, first a “revenue allocation district” is formed that sets a beginning base value of all property within that district (in this case, property within Ketchum’s city limits). Then, a newly formed URA generally borrows some money to get its engine started. That money is invested in the allocation district, with the expectation of an increase in the district’s property values. That increase is called the “increment.” Lastly, taxes generated by the increment stay within the district and can be used to fund the next round of projects, and so on. After a predetermined number of years, the tax increment financing “sunsets,” but the process can be initiated again.

“It’s like a mortgage,” Eshman said. “Most people don’t wait until they can afford a house before they buy one.” 


Brennan Rego: brego@mtexpress.com

 




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