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City council gets an urban renewal 'refresher'

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The law firm of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck provided an "urban renewal refresher" for members of the Delta City Council on Sept. 2.

Carolynne White and Caitlin Quander, associates of the law firm, explained urban renewal is primarily intended to prevent and eliminate slums and blight -- not to fund economic development, create jobs or increase tax revenue.

But, they added, elimination of slum and blight through redevelopment almost always results in economic development, job creation and increased tax revenue.

That's the goal of the City of Delta, Region 10 and Delta County Economic Development, as the entities begin implementing a strategic plan developed by consultants from Better City. An urban renewal authority is one way to fund public improvements in the hope of attracting private investment.

The Denver-based law firm has been contracted to provide expertise as the city moves to revitalize the Delta Urban Renewal Authority that was created in 1985. The original scope of work centered on the downtown area, but future plan areas are expected to include the property eyed for a riverfront hotel/conference center near the intersection of Highways 50 and 92.

White and Quander explained that DURA's boundaries are the same as the city's, but within those boundaries multiple areas can be designated for improvement.

They said the word "blight" can be applied broadly to 14 different criteria, including deteriorated structures as well as inadequate public improvements or utilities; environmental contamination of buildings or property; and defective or inadequate street layout.

"The principal purpose of an urban renewal plan is to attract private investment, to get the private sector to do the things you want done within the plan area," White explained. "While URA has authority to issue bonds and build public, or even private, improvements, the whole purpose isn't that the URA is going to do everything -- it's that you're going to do enough to attract the private sector to do it."

Tax increment financing is one of the tools an urban renewal authority can use to finance bonds. This type of financing requires buy-in from the county, school district and other taxing entities that agree to give up the property and/or sales tax generated by the new development. The "increment" is pooled to fund rehabilitation.

Because those taxing entities have a stake in the new development, state statute requires they be represented on the urban renewal authority board. In addition to the five council members, who currently serve as the DURA board members, any new plan will require appointment of three additional board members. One must be a county appointee, one must be a school board member and the third will represent all the other taxing districts within the plan area.

The next step is to bring together the existing DURA board, adopt bylaws and authorize the law firm to formally reinstate DURA's legal status as city staff begins to identify the plan boundaries/projects.

"I know you're anxious to get moving," White said, "but there's a good chance you might be taking final action to adopt a plan nine to 12 months from now."

City officials report they've already had positive conversations with the taxing bodies that will be affected by tax increment financing, which could speed up the process.

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