Money from newly-created district would fund Banks Vision 2037 projects community members said they want

This map shows what parts of the city will be within the Urban Renewal Plan.The Banks City Council voted unanimously to adopt an ordinance that will allow for an Urban Renewal Area (URA) at its meeting Tuesday, Oct. 10.

There was little discussion among councilors before the vote and no audience members commented on the plan at Tuesday's meeting. Previous public hearings on the topic have brought packed houses, full of community members with lots of questions about the somewhat controversial and confusing topic.

A URA would fund the newly adopted Banks 2037 Vision Plan, which is made up of projects community members have said they'd like to see, based on comments from surveys, open houses and other public outreach efforts. The projects include a community gathering space, enhanced downtown sidewalks, updated storefronts, more parking and a bike trail that snakes through town to connect residences with businesses and the Banks-Vernonia Trail.

In previous meetings, local residents worried a URA might increase their tax bills, but city leaders said that would not happen. If the URA is approved by the Banks council, property owners will see a URA line-item on their tax bill but it won't be an increase. Instead, it will just be a different way of breaking down the same tax amount, said the city's URA consultant, Elaine Howard.

URA funds will equal the amount of annual tax increases on all the properties inside the urban renewal area, starting in 2017, when the area is created.

At that point, the city will "freeze" the amount of tax money being paid by all the homes or businesses inside the area. In this case, "freezing" doesn't mean a property owner's taxes stop increasing. It means the base "frozen" amount is what keeps going to the city and county, while the money from every tax increase for the next 30 years goes toward urban renewal projects.

And while city leaders say a URA has nothing to do with giving developers tax breaks, it does rely on tax growth, both on current properties and on new homes coming into the URA area (see map). Property values must increase for the plan to work.

That income will help fund the Banks 2037 Vision Plan projects.

The URA cap is $30 million, meaning the city can't spend more than that on projects.

The city council members are the city's Urban Renewal Agency but they will act as a separate entity with URA meetings distinct from the council meetings.

The council will vote to prioritize vision plan projects in the future after community input and after enough funding is gathered. That will likely be several years down the road — Banks Mayor Pete Edison is guessing about four to six years.

Edison said the city may eventually go out for a bond once enough money can be generated to pay it back.

"We have a lot of great projects in mind and I'm excited to improve the liveability and experience of being in downtown Banks," Edison said. "We have the roadmap laid out for us. I think the hard work is done and now hopefully the fun work can begin."

By Stephanie Haugen
Reporter, Forest Grove News-Times
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