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City Council will vote next month on whether to establish an urban renewal agency

PMG PHOTO: ANNA DEL SAVIO - ECONorthwest consultants Lorelei Juntunen and Becky Hewitt asked the Scappoose City Council to approve aspects of the proposed urban renewal plan at the councils May 20 meeting. Approval would allow Elaine Howard, front, to prepare the formal plan.Scappoose city councilors will soon decide if they will form an urban renewal agency as the next step in the process of creating an urban renewal district.

The city commissioned a feasibility study in early 2018 to explore if urban renewal would be an effective means to fund infrastructure and economic development work. ECONorthwest, a consulting firm also working with the city on its housing needs analysis, completed the study.

At the council's May 20 meeting, Lorelei Juntunen and Becky Hewitt of ECONorthwest presented the proposed boundary, maximum debt and project list for the urban renewal area.

Once the council approves those key elements, Elaine Howard, another consultant, will draft the urban renewal plan and report.

The city's Technical Advisory Committee met with ECONorthwest consultants in April and presented suggestions to councilors at the May 20 meeting.

TAC recommended spending the most urban renewal funds, just under $8 million, on wastewater treatment plant improvements, sewer projects and drinking water treatment and supply. The second largest category, with roughly $5 million in recommended projects, was transportation improvements. Safety measures for cyclists and pedestrians came in third, followed by enhanced streetscapes and storefront improvements.

A financial report drafted by Tiberius Solutions LLC determined that after factoring for inflation and fees, the total amount of funding generated by a 30-year urban renewal plan would be between $11.4 million and $25.5 million.

In an urban renewal district, a "frozen base" assessed value is determined. That means that property taxes up to that assessed value continue to be distributed to government agencies as normal, but any increase in the assessed value would generate additional property tax revenue that goes toward the urban renewal district.

Residents will not see any increase in their property taxes due to an urban renewal district, but tax-funded districts will see a decrease in expected funding. A Tiberius Solutions report concluded that for a property valued at $103,000, an urban renewal district would have pulled a total of $36.05 from other tax districts in the prior fiscal year.

"Funding for urban renewal works through the division of property tax revenues, which results in foregone revenues for overlapping taxing districts," explained a September 2018 report from ECONorthwest.

Those foregone revenues were noted by Scappoose Fire District Chief Mike Greisen, who spoke at the City Council meeting to advocate against establishing an urban renewal district. Previously, the city had conducted a survey of residents to find out what improvements they most wanted in the city.

"Were Scappoose residents ever asked what services they would reduce or eliminate to have the improvements they wanted? Did the city ask its citizens what services and positions they would recommend for reduction or elimination due to insufficient tax revenue available for city services?" Greisen asked.

The urban renewal plan would not redirect funds from local options and bonds, which means more than half of the tax revenue for Scappoose Fire District and Columbia 911 would be protected.

ECONorthwest proposed a few small additions to the boundary, totaling roughly 17 acres, and proposed removing Scappoose Middle School, which is 19 acres.