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Talent slows urban renewal push

Talent City Council will refine its plan and take it to voters

A controversial urban renewal district plan in Talent has been delayed for refinement, and the Talent City Council will ask for a vote of the people.

Councilors Wednesday evening approved a resolution calling for further development of the plan, delaying implementation that would have impacted other taxing district budgets and calling for a vote in May 2023.

On Tuesday evening, councilors met to consider input from the other taxing districts, such as Jackson County Fire District 5. After deliberations, the councilors decided to craft the resolution rather than hold a public hearing and first reading of an ordinance Wednesday that would have established the new 30-year district effective Sept. 21.

Implementation of the plan would have resulted in tax losses of nearly $17 million each over the 30-year life of the district for Fire District 5 and the city of Talent. Jackson County would have forgone $10.6 million during the period, and other districts, including the library system and Rogue Valley Transportation District, would have suffered lesser losses.

“What a whirlwind. What a challenge. We are encouraged that the city is taking additional time,” said Vicki Purslow, chair of the Fire District 5 Board of Directors. “I hope they take a careful review and really look at all the materials we sent them.”

A report prepared by Cascadia Partners at the request of the fire district raised issues with 35 areas in the plan, said Purslow. She said she would like to see specifics on projects, with timelines and costs, rather than the general concepts presented in the plan.

“I want to give the public credit. There were more than 500 people that spoke out against the plan,” said Purslow. “Without that, I’m not confident they would be where we are at today.”

“Thank you for delaying this decision. It seems like it needs more public input and more thought from the agencies impacted,” Talent resident Ryan Mallory said Wednesday. “I think we found that the citizens of Talent, the citizens of this county, on a decision that would affect Fire District 5 need to be considered.”

“I’m pleased to see a specific line item that highlights our intention to work with regional partners,” Councilor Ana Byers said, referring to the resolution. In late June Byers urged the Talent Urban Renewal Agency board to not move the plan to the council, which kicked off a 45-day consultation period with other agencies. She called for more time for refinement and consideration of affected districts. City Council members also serve as the agency’s board of directors.

Three of the districts and the city of Phoenix called on the City Council to not implement the plan. There was also a high volume of public comment received by the council, most of which criticized the proposal for its potential impact to emergency and city services.

The agency had touted the plan as a way to rebuild the city after the 2020 Almeda Fire. City Manager Jordan Rooklyn said the city lost 690 residences, 47% of those manufactured homes, and 64 commercial structures. To date, 44 commercial lots and 212 manufactured home sites are still vacant. Expectations are that 75% of residences will be rebuilt by next year, Rooklyn said.

“The feedback is to delay the start of the freeze on the tax base. That impacts the district budgets,” said Rooklyn. Increased revenue from improvements made after a tax base is frozen in the 212-acre district would all go to urban renewal. The initial proposal called for a freeze date of Jan. 1, 2021. Many of the properties were devalued following fire destruction, thus cutting tax revenues to the districts.

In an earlier meeting Rooklyn estimated that delaying the freeze date until Jan. 1, 2022, would restore the city tax revenue to levels near what it had been prior to the Almeda Fire.

The district tax value as of Jan. 1, 2022, should be available from the assessor’s office in October, said Rooklyn. Those figures are needed to calculate what the taxing impacts would be and the financing the district would have to work with as it refines the plan.

After a plan is developed, the agency board would forward it to the council and begin another 45-day consultation period with affected taxing districts. The council would then hold a public hearing and possibly approve a plan to send to voters. If voters then approved, it would become effective in mid-May 2023.

“I really appreciated last night and tonight,” Jerry Hauck, president of the Oak Valley Homeowners Association, said Wednesday. “A lot of people felt the speed of the process was too fast and not enough information was being shared.”

Oak Valley lost 77 residences, but more than 40 are now being rebuilt, said Hauck. He said a new plan might consider leaving the area out of the new urban renewal district due to the extent of recovery.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gamil.com.