City passes Housing Urban Renewal District
After hearing from members of the public, the Madras City Council unanimously voted Nov. 12 to create a housing urban renewal district in the city. A few properties and rights of way outside the city limits will also be included.
Inside the district boundaries, tax rates for all the taxing districts will be frozen, and the increases will be used to give incentives to housing developers. The city may borrow against future tax increases due to development and then pay the loan back with those tax revenues.
Madras resident Bill Atherton opposed the city going into debt.
"I've had some 50 years in this public policy area," he said. "I think my main complaint is that this is another subsidy scheme, a complicated subsidy scheme. And it's a little plan, and I think Madras deserves a bigger plan."Atherton would rather see the city raise taxes on bare land than on improvements to it.
Councilor Bartt Brick agreed that there are larger issues.
"The truth is we have a severe housing problem right now right here," he said, adding that the district addresses the problem "in as fiscally conservative a way as it can be done."
He said adopting the district doesn't preclude the city from working with state and federal agencies to address long-term solutions.
"But I don't want to delay solving the problem we have right now," Brick said. "... I don't want to make the perfect the enemy of the good."
Councilor Gary Walker agreed.
"I've been in business in Madras 36 years," he said. Walker and his wife own Madras Marine. "I understand sustainability and indebtedness and return on investment. I saw nothing in this plan that would harm the city."
Madras residents Sam and Marie Williams thought the city was rushing to make a decision.
"We're here tonight to urge the council to put off the vote until more citizens of Madras are aware of the enormity," Sam Williams said. "... We do not fully understand the proposal."
He added that he did not understand the implications of promoting growth, including increasing the size of schools and the impacts on roads.
Marie Williams said she wished she knew more about the meetings.
"This is a sweeping project," she said, "and the community input about it doesn't reflect that."
"We have been working on this for two years," said Mayor Richard Ladeby.
He said all meetings have been announced and have been covered by the Madras Pioneer.
Snead added that letters were sent out to every property owner in the city on Sept. 24.
"We have examined every way possible to notify the public, and we still get the same response," Councilor Royce Embanks said.
Councilor Leticia Montano said she wondered if the city could find other ways to get the word out.
"I think in order to engage more with the public, we do need to take those folks into consideration," she said.
Brick and Councilor Rosalind Canga agreed the city should explore all avenues to communicate.
Developer Joel Gisler, from Bend, told the council he bought land in Madras around 2005, during the last housing boom.
One of the parcels was in the Park Place subdivision. He worked with the city, "but I ultimately ran into offsite sewer problems," he said. "With 40 lots, I just couldn't absorb the offsite costs to proceed, and by then, the market had changed and nobody was moving to Madras at that time.
"I encourage the council to adopt this plan because without it, Madras is dead in the water," Gisler continued. "Nobody's going to be able to do anything. ... You can't depend on the developer to do all this offsite improvement."
"We are not going to please everybody," Councilor Jennifer Holcomb said before the vote, "but the developers that are going to move this town forward are all pleased with it."
In support of creating the district, the council unanimously voted to adjust the membership of the Madras Redevelopment Commission to include all of the members of the City Council.
The council also took action to prepare for new development, allowing the city to apply for a Department of Environmental Quality loan of up to $2.3 million for sewer improvements.
"This is all about getting ready for housing coming in," said Public Works Director Jeff Hurd.
Applying now is important because a DEQ loan can take six to eight months to process, Hurd said.
The city would not receive the money or pay any fees unless it actually executed the loan, Hurd added. "I wanted to be ready to get funding as needed."
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