Idaho Lawmakers Consider Changes to Urban Renewal Laws

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A group of Idaho lawmakers are narrowing down recommendations on how to improve oversight on boards that helped lure major companies to the state

KIMBERLEE KRUESI
Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) – A group of Idaho lawmakers are narrowing down recommendations on how to improve oversight on boards that helped lure major companies to the state.

The 10-member Urban Renewal Agency Interim Committee met Monday to discuss possible change but will hold off from finalizing possible legislation until its December meeting. The group is tasked with submitting recommendations to the 2016 Idaho Legislature, which starts in January.

Urban renewal agencies collect taxes from improvements in their municipal districts and use that money to attract and finance new projects, particularly in blighted areas.

The districts have become go-to solutions for municipalities to boost economic development as local officials have limited options for easy financing. However, critics have argued that agencies operate under low accountability guidelines and take tax dollars away from local government on projects that would have happened anyway.

Lawmakers agreed that urban renewal districts should remain flexible in how they select members, but a handful voiced concerns over allowing municipalities to hold elections to fill the positions.

“I have a problem on electing the board because I think you miss out on getting expertise,” said Sen. Jeff Siddoway, a Republican from Terreton. “I can’t imagine what that campaign would sound like if you’re against urban renewal, but it could happen.”

Sen. Mary Souza, a Republican from Coeur d’Alene, urged creating measures to prevent urban renewal districts from bypassing a public vote to build public projects.

Souza, who has criticized Coeur d’Alene’s urban renewal district for launching unnecessary projects without public accountability, said other districts have managed to be more judicious in finding projects that attract new employers.

Other possible changes suggested Monday would change how district revenues are set and create a central repository to monitor district activity.

 

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press.

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