By Mary Owen
Stayton residents might have a say about the city’s recently passed Urban Renewal District, if a proposed petition drive is successful.
“I’m encouraged about our ability to gather these signatures and would expect this to be on the ballot,” said Dick Morley, a spokesman for the group of about 15 Stayton residents circulating the petition.
Citizens need to collect at least 283 verified signatures in 30 days to get the issue on the May ballot, and Morley expects the group will gather more than that, he said.
Dan Fleishman, the city’s planning and development director, said when the city council passed the ordinance on Dec. 7 it was implementing urban renewal as one of the few tools available to the city to “make effective changes to the downtown area.”
“I’m disappointed, though not surprised at the petition effort,” Fleishman said. “I am concerned that there will be an organized effort at overturning the ordinance and not an organized effort to keep it.”
Fleishman said the primary benefit of the URD is providing a dedicated source of funding to revitalize Stayton’s downtown core area.
For properties within the URD, other taxing agencies are frozen at current revenue levels, with all growth in revenue for the next 20 years going directly into the URD fund.
Stayton Fire Chief Jack Carriger opposes the URD, since the plan projects more than $930,000 in foregone revenues to the fire district over the next 20 years. He recently told the Stayton Sublimity Chamber of Commerce board that while he recognizes the needs for infrastructure improvements in the URD, there should be a way to fund them that does not come at the expense of the county and fire and school districts.
According to Mayor Gerry Aboud, moving the URD forward will help to reverse the downtown’s deteriorating course.
“This whole issue is about what is good for the community as a whole,” Aboud said. “We all live here and are affected by the quality of the town we live in. Unless we do something about our current situation and do it now, we will see even further deterioration in the future.”
Councilor Don Walters agreed, saying, “I believe that folks 20 years from now will look back and say that passing the URD was the direct cause of a revitalized downtown.”
To opponents of the district, he suggests, “Go downtown, look around. We have done nothing for 40 years or so. How well does that seem to be working?”
Urban renewal districts throughout the state have a long track record of successfully stimulating new development, Fleishman said. “And working with property owners to provide the resources to improve properties and public facilities,” he added.
Aboud said the district projects a “we care” attitude that will positively impact Stayton.
“This entire issue comes down to what is best for the advancement, progress and vitality of the city,” Aboud said.
While the Stayton Fire District, City of Stayton and Marion County will not share in a portion of future tax revenues in the URD, Aboud said, “we will all gain in the long term.”
Aboud also noted that property owners will see no increase in taxes due to the URD.
“They are not being taxed any differently,” he said. “New construction and remodels will also not see any difference in taxes over what they would normally pay.”
Aboud suggested residents take a close look at how Urban Renewal is at work in Salem, Woodburn, Monmouth, Independence and other Oregon cities.
“Their city and fire district budgets are under the same constraints that would be in place in Stayton,” he said. “If it works for those entities, it certainly can work here.”
At a public hearing last July, Carriger told councilors that Stayton residents should have their say on whether they want or are willing to pay for the district. He has joined the group working to put the issue on the ballot.
As it stands now the ordinance that sets up the URD will go into effect Jan. 6, with tax-increment revenue beginning in November 2011 for fiscal year 2012.
“As this funding becomes available, the UR agency will have funding available to work with developers and to assist the city in making improvements in public facilities,” Fleishman said. “The first year the agency is projected to have about $25,000 in revenue – not a lot to spend on projects.”
Urban Renewal Agency members met Dec. 14 to begin discussion on what projects will first benefit from URD funding, Fleishman said.