Urban renewal, sold over the years as a tool for economic development, is commonly understood to be used for the purpose of creating jobs and reviving economic activity.
Or, is it?
The Caldwell Urban Renewal Agency held a meeting Tuesday to discuss plans to bond for a county administration building to relieve overcrowding in the current one. There will need to be a formal resolution signed, but the idea took a big step toward reality when it was approved 3-1 with one person abstaining.
Kathy Alder, a county commissioner who also sits on the board of the urban renewal agency, described a dire situation for the current administration staff within the courthouse, saying the building was constructed when the county only had 90,000 people. But, now with 191,000 people in the county and much more staff, she said it’s time to upgrade.
“There’s a tremendous need for an administration building in this county,” she said.
Alder, who made the presentation to those at the meeting, said the initial plan was to do something with the jail, but there was not enough money available for that project. Instead, she said board members looked at what they could do with the guaranteed urban renewal money that will be collected in 2015-22 rather than let the fund sunset.
The proposed building would cost around $7.2 million and would be constructed in one of the county employee parking lots adjacent to the courthouse in Caldwell. The 3-1 vote actually designated a $10 million fund, with the remainder of the money going to finance some renovation of the existing courthouse.
The urban renewal agency was originally established to go away in 2014, but Alder said the board can leave something to show for their money by constructing the building. “We feel like this is a wise investment of urban renewal money that’s going to be collected,” she said.
The dissenting vote for the funding questioned the use of the money for something he does not see as fulfilling the economic development intent of urban renewal funds.
The newest member of the agency, Scott Syme, was not convinced the project is in the best interests of the agency and was the lone person to vote no. Syme believes the money should be spent on projects that “create long-term sustainable employment opportunities for the area.”
Alder, citing a conflict of interest due to her position as a county commissioner, abstained from voting. Approving the use of funds were Leona Fouts, Rob Hopper and Eljay Waite.
The agency has until Dec. 21, 2014, to approve projects. However, according to county commissioners who attended the meeting, their legal counsel said the project for the administration building would have to commence in 2013 or early 2014 and would be around a 12-14 month undertaking.
Erik Makrush, policy analyst for the Idaho Freedom Foundation, as well as a resident from Caldwell, voiced his disagreement with the plan, saying, “I would recommend putting this project on hold. This is not doing anything to develop downtown Caldwell. This is not doing anything to alleviate the mess we have downtown with all of the vacant buildings.”
Makrush continued that, “as a foundation, the Idaho Freedom Foundation strongly discourages this type of project. We encourage you to look at other avenues.”
Note: IdahoReporter.com is published by the Idaho Freedom Foundation.