Revitalization. Renewal. Redesign. It is likely you have heard some of these terms floating around when talking about our beautiful downtown. In the last few years, Second Avenue has a whole new look, and last May we watched as Third Avenue was transformed just in time to welcome Lost in the 50’s weekend. But have you ever wondered just where the funds come from to pay for these improvements? In all likelihood, the first thought that came to your mind was the dreaded word, taxes. But before you go start checking your property tax statement, read on.
Sandpoint Urban Renewal Agency (SURA), which was established by the Sandpoint City Council in 2005, is an independent public redevelopment agency that serves the city of Sandpoint. Its members consist of a volunteer Board of Commissioners comprised of community leaders appointed by the mayor and approved by the City Council. And the good news is, part of their job is to help stimulate economic development in our community. If you look around, you will see many of the projects they have helped to fund. I had the chance to sit down with Eric Paull, the chairman of SURA, who explained more about SURA’s role in the Sandpoint community.
Mr. Paull: SURA was created for the primary reason of funding critical infrastructure projects in Sandpoint that would act to stimulate economic development and arrest urban deterioration.
Mr. Paull: Since 2005, SURA has had two redevelopment districts - the Downtown and the Northern districts, both of which are scheduled to close by 2029. Districts can be closed once district redevelopment activities are completed and any debt issued to finance the district’s redevelopment is retired.
Mr. Paull: Prior to 1985 urban renewal objects were funded by federal funds. In 1985 the Idaho state legislature adopted the Local Economic Development Act, authorizing the use of tax increment financing.
Mr. Paull: Under tax increment financing, the taxes generated by increasing property values in an urban renewal District are used to pay for public improvements and other revitalization activities within that District. At the time an urban renewal District is formed, the county assessor establishes the current value for each property in that District. This value is referred to as the “base” value. Over time, as both public and private dollars are invested and development occurs in the District, property values tend to rise. The increase in value over the base is called the “incremental” values, or increment. The taxes generated by this incremental value are utilized for redevelopment work by the urban renewal agency. The Sandpoint City Council has created revenue allocation areas for the urban renewal Districts it has formed, and therefore the tax increment is allocated to SURA. These funds are to be reinvested in projects either within or which provide public infrastructure to the District from which the funds originate.
The key to remember is that these funds can only be used for public property.
Mr. Paull: We are a public agency and therefore we follow governmental accounting and posted budgets. We have annual audited financial statements. Our commission is comprised of seven members and our monthly meetings are open to the public.
Mr. Paull: A few years ago, SURA approved funding for the extension of the Sand Creek Boardwalk from Bridge Street, north to the Panida Theater. The project was under the supervision of the City of Sandpoint Parks & Rec Department and was funded through a variety of sources, as are a majority of the projects we fund.
SURA provided a grant directly to NIC toward this relocation in the amount of $40,000 per year for each of four years (2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015) so that they could relocate into downtown Sandpoint in the Fall 2012. With this financial commitment, SURA helped to realize its own goals for higher education in the city core, while expediting the presence of North Idaho College in Sandpoint and supporting NIC’s platform for expansion of presence and offerings. The agency was able to grant funds to NIC with the condition any such funds are used for projects that support educational opportunities for residents of the Downtown Revenue Allocation area, at least in part, or otherwise positively impact the Downtown Revenue Allocation Area. Recently, SURA has also helped with repairs to runway at Sandpoint Airport, a place that contributes greatly to the economic vitality of our community.
Mr. Paull: Our downtown streets have always been a major focus for SURA. Once they are relinquished by the Idaho Department of Transportation, we will be concentrating our efforts on First Avenue, Cedar and Pine Streets.
To learn more about the specific location of the districts, go to sandpointurbanrenewal.org/districts/