Jan 17, 2006

Urban Renewal: "Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me"

I received an e-mail from city staff the other day regarding Troutdale's proposed urban renewal plan. You'll see they took down the "Impact on Taxpayers" link.

Why? Here is the relevant text of the e-mail from Troutdale City Administrator John Anderson to the Troutdale City Council dated January 11:
(FYI-The "Jeff" in the e-mail is Jeff Tashman, Troutdale's urban renewal consultant)

"State statutes require that any city proposing an urban renewal district send a mailer to all residents. The mailer must address five specific questions. The attached mailer has been prepared by Jeff Tashman and reviewed by our city attorney Marnie Allen. I'm sending it to City Council members and Ad Hoc committee members because of one required statement in the mailer dealing with the impact of the tax increment financing on taxpayers. When we received the draft language from Jeff on Monday the 9th it had a sentence in it stating that while there is no impact on the general taxes paid, for Bonds sold before October 6, 2001, there is an impact. That impact is 0.035 cents per $1,000 of assessed value according to Jeff. This computes to $7 per year on a home with an assessed value, not market value, of $200,000. This is a very uncomfortable surprise even if the impact is very minor. . ."

Now here's the thing. The Troutdale City Council has had several work sessions about this proposed urban renewal project. The city's Citizen Advisory committee and Parks Advisory Committee met to discuss this project. We all approved the pursuit of this project pending approval of Troutdale's voters.

Jeff Tashman and city staff were asked multiple times about the potential property tax impact to Troutdale property owners outside the proposed urban renewal district. We were always told that there would be none. The total property tax price tag comprising of all taxing districts + tax increment financing was to remain the same for each Troutdale property owner outside the urban renewal boundary. No change in the total tax bill.

Now that the train has left the station, now that we have also held two neighborhood meetings, NOW Tashman and city staff bring up this "uncomfortable surprise".

I can only blame myself and the other city councilors that voted in favor of this. Earlier, city staff told us they "forgot about" tens of thousands of consultant fees they needed to pursue this project. We gave them the money for the consultants, even though our general fund contingency reserves are limited.

I would never have voted to pursue this urban renewal project if I had known about this "unpleasant surprise". City Councilors don't get paid in Troutdale. We don't have our own individual staffers. We're volunteers. We work for a living. And yet we have to find the time and resources to verify that our staff and consultants are telling us the truth? Does truth even exist in politics when there's big money on the table?

My cynicism is growing by the hour. What the hell was I thinking? Every conservative bone in my body told me not to go for this urban renewal song and dance. And yet I allowed myself to be swayed. Scotty from Star Trek was right. "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me".

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