The president of the Ada County Highway District sent a strongly-worded, lengthy letter to the chairman of the Capital City Development Corporation and City of Boise this week.
The letter lays out the case that the recent boom in urban renewal districts is not legal. And now, Rebecca Arnold says it is costing taxpayers outside the districts more money.
Urban renewal in Idaho
When a city creates a new urban renewal area, the property tax collections inside its boundaries freeze at the time of creation. Any increase in property values and the extra tax it generates goes to the urban renewal agency instead of taxing agencies like schools, ACHD and police.
For instance: Say a property is worth $100,000 and pays $1,000 per year in property tax at the time of the urban renewal area. Over time, it increases in value to $150,000 and the owner pays $1,500 in property taxes. Of that $1,500, $1,000 would go to the regular taxing agencies and the extra $500 would go to an agency like CCDC.
Urban renewal areas in Idaho are limited to a term of 20 years.
New CCDC areas infringe on ACHD authority
CCDC added two new areas last winter. One runs along the Boise River near downtown, and another in the desert around I-84. It is working on a third new district on the Boise Bench. (Another district in the works for State St. does not merit a mention in the letter.)
“The creation of these two Project Areas and the proposal for a third have brought to light several important issues,” Arnold wrote. “It appears the boundaries of the Project Areas are very strategically located around ACHD’s primary transportation corridors. (The) Central Bench boundary is a plain attempt to ‘gerrymander’ the project around ACHD’s primary transportation corridors.”
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The new Bench plan centers around commercial areas on Vista Ave., Overland Rd., Orchard St., Latah St. and Curtis St.
Arnold says the boundaries show an attempt to get around Idaho law.
“In particular, this effort appears to be a clear attempt to avoid Idaho’ s laws governing local improvement districts and/or to circumvent ACHD’s exclusive jurisdiction over the public rights-of-way within the new District’ s boundary.”
Arnold said Idaho law requires CCDC and the city work with ACHD in the process to create new URAs.
Arnold says urban renewal is taking funds from ACHD
The letter details what Arnold says is an illegal diversion of funds from the highway district to CCDC.
“(The) use of funds from property taxes levied by ACHD for any purpose other than the ‘construction and maintenance of highways and bridges’ is in direct violation of ACHD’ s enabling statute that allows for the collection and expenditure of property taxes,” Arnold wrote.
She said the statue enabling highway districts predates the laws that set up urban renewal districts. She cites Idaho State Code which says highway district funding shall ‘shall control and supersede’ other uses – like urban renewal.
Arnold’s contends any dollars flowing to CCDC that would have gone to ACHD must be used for roads and bridges.
Arnold: CCDC takes $1 million from ACHD per year, other taxpayers feel the burden
Arnold says CCDC’s urban renewal efforts take more than $1-million per year from the highway district. (She says this figure doesn’t include dollars that go to other urban renewal agencies in the county, including those in Eagle and Meridian).
“The revenues being collected by CCDC from ACHD’ s property tax levies are substantial, and the lack of those funds in ACHD’s coffers cause significant impacts to the number and scope of road projects that can be undertaken in Ada County,” Arnold wrote.
She said the existing River-Myrtle-Old Boise urban renewal district cost ACHD $577,000 in lost revenue in 2018. But, Arnold said, ACHD continues to put significant dollars into roads in that district. The result is an increased burden on taxpayers around the county.
“These costs are being funded disproportionately by taxpayers located outside the urban renewal district and not by the property owners located within the district.”
Gateway East: Development, not redevelopment
Arnold contends the newly-created Gateway East district doesn’t fit Idaho statute – because most of the land is empty.
“The recent approval of the Gateway East Project Area is questionable as it is largely an undeveloped desert in southeast Boise.”
She said that there is no evidence in Idaho law that allows this use.
“There is nothing in the enabling urban renewal statute or legislative history that evidences that the Idaho Legislature intended to give urban renewal agencies the statutory authority to redevelop areas that have never been developed,” she wrote.
Arnold cc’ed the letter to high-profile opponents of urban renewal in the Idaho legislature, including Rep. Mike Moyle of Star and Sen. Jim Rice of Caldwell.
She noted that the Idaho legislature proposed several new urban renewal bills in the last five sessions. “(But) CCDC appears to be responding with a more aggressive use of its statutory authority.”
She said the requirements for new urban renewal areas cannot be satisfied “without proper coordination with and approval by ACHD,” and that the agency objects to the recently created districts and will object to future efforts.