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Talent council makes the right call on renewal

The Talent City Council made the right call Tuesday night when councilors voted to delay a proposed urban renewal district for further refinement and a public vote next spring.

The council had originally scheduled a public hearing on the plan Wednesday and a first reading of an ordinance creating a new district, with a second vote planned for next week. Approval at that point would have launched the district Sept. 21.

The most important date was not Sept. 21 of this year but Jan. 1, 2021 — the starting date for the assessed value of the renewal district. That was four months after the Almeda Fire swept through, destroying everything in its path.

Urban renewal districts take advantage of what is known as tax increment financing. A district created for the purpose borrows money up front by issuing bonds sold to investors, uses the proceeds to improve or restore properties, then pays off the bonds with the increase in property tax revenue generated by the improvements. The city and other taxing entities forgo those increased taxes until the bonds are retired — usually 30 years — at which point the increased taxes benefit the entire community.

In this case, the proposed starting point for the renewal district would have been a tax base consisting only of bare land. The district would have captured all of the increased taxes from new construction as the fire-damaged area rebuilt.

This understandably was not welcomed by the other taxing districts affected, including Fire District 5, Jackson County and the county library system. The city of Talent, as well, would have forgone considerable revenue.

The city and Fire District 5 would each have lost nearly $17 million over the 30-year life of the district. Jackson County would have lost $10.6 million.

Fire district officials and county commissioners, among others, opposed creating the district, and the plan became the subject of heated debate on social media, pitting supporters and opponents against each other.

The idea of using tax increment financing to help rebuild the city is not a bad one. But freezing the value of the district as of Jan. 1, 2021, essentially reserved all the revenue benefit of the rebuilding to the renewal district.

Because considerable rebuilding has already taken place, delaying the freeze on the tax base one year, to Jan. 1, 2022, would mean starting closer to where the tax base was before the fire, according to Talent City Manager Jordan Rooklyn. That would mean the district would have less money to work with, but still more than it would with no district at all.

The Rogue Valley Transportation District Board of Directors, in a letter to Talent City Council, said it generally supported creating the renewal district but asked that the freeze date be delayed for a year or two.

That’s a reasonable suggestion. This proposal was on a fast track from the beginning, which meant many residents were left scrambling for information on what is a complex process.

Slowing down and carefully considering impacts to other taxing districts will go a long way toward making the renewal district something the entire community can support rather than locking in a divisive plan.