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Scappoose City Council to vote on ordinance establishing urban renewal plan at meeting later this month

PMG PHOTO: ANNA DEL SAVIO - Scappoose Mayor Scott Burge and Councilors Megan Greisen, Patrick Kessi, and Josh Poling watch a presentation from consultants at a meeting earlier this year. Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated when the urban renewal agency was formed. City council first heard the ordinance in June, but approved it in July. The article also incorrectly stated the limit on the total value of the urban renewal area. The urban renewal area can't be more than 25% of the city's total assessed value.

The Scappoose City Council is slated to vote on a proposed urban renewal plan later this month, on Nov. 18.

If approved, the plan would direct money from property taxes in the defined urban renewal area for identified projects, such as water service and transportation improvements, over the next 30 years.

The urban renewal process has been underway for well over a year. In July, the City Council formed an urban renewal agency, which then sent the proposal to the city's planning commission. The planning commission determined the plan was in accordance with the city's comprehensive plan.

In an urban renewal district, a "frozen base" assessed value is determined, meaning 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 to pay for projects.

The proposed urban renewal area would include the lots on the westside of Highway 30, land along Columbia Avenue to the east of Highway 30, the airport and industrial area north of Crown Zellerbach Road, and other smaller parcels.

The proposed area is only a small portion of the city and would only impede overlapping taxing district's budgetary growth in that zone, rather than the taxing district overall. State law says urban renewal in cities with less than 50,000 residents can't include more than 25% of the total assessed value of property in the city, explained Elaine Howard, a consultant leading the city's urban renewal effort.

Residents will not see any increase in their property taxes due to an urban renewal district, but tax-funded districts will experience slowed growth in their budgets, even as expenses and the populations they serve increase.

Over the estimated 30-year urban renewal plan, the Scappoose Rural Fire Protection District would see a total of $3.8 million diverted from its budget to fund urban renewal.

For Scappoose RFPD and Columbia River Fire and Rescue Chief Dennis Hoke, an urban renewal plan could mean consequences for residents.

"As we continue to try to attract industry and construction in the urban renewal district, that's going to mean increased requests for services," Hoke said. "Eventually it's going to come back to the voters and ask for support."

He added, "It's a catch 22. We need the growth, and the growth is good for the community, but there's also a cost to the taxpayer for that growth."

If the city succeeds in bringing in industry, or even more housing, the fire districts will face an increased workload without a correspondingly increased budget.

"We're stretched pretty thin," Hoke said.

However, a well-executed urban renewal strategy would likely increase property values in surrounding areas, not just within the strict borders of the urban renewal area.

"I don't want it to come off that we're anti-economic development... but it comes at a cost," Hoke said.

Hoke only recently became the fire districts' chief, but former Chief Mike Greisen had voiced similar concerns to city councilors prior to his retirement.

Bonds and local option levies aren't impacted by urban renewal. Schools would not ultimately see diminished budget growth because the state would backfill funding lost to urban renewal.

The Port of Columbia County would lose $303,951 over the 30-year span but has an overall larger taxing district.

"The Port supports it, absolutely. This will help us to connect the airport to the downtown," Doug Hayes, the port's executive director, explained. "Just think of the possibilities of folks coming in."

He also noted the opportunities for job creation.

The city hired consultants in 2018 to examine the feasibility of urban renewal, and then convened a technical advisory committee, which reviewed potential uses of urban renewal funds.

The technical advisory committee recommended spending the most urban renewal funds, just under $8 million of 2019 dollars, 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.

The urban renewal area would generate $20.4 million in constant 2019 dollars for projects in the plan.

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