New Talent urban renewal plan cuts costs, benefits by two-thirds

A rainbow over Talent, Oregon. Two years after the Almeda Fire, 44 commercial lots remain vacant, and hundreds of families are still displaced. Matt Witt photo
December 30, 2022

Scaled-back plan prioritizes emergency preparation, public works and business support

By Matt Witt

Talent City Manager Jordan Rooklyn has proposed a new urban renewal plan that would provide one-third of the funding contained in the previous plan that was rejected by the City Council in August.

Most of the reduction would be in new funds to support affordable housing.

Meanwhile, the impact on Jackson County Fire District No. 5’s revenue growth — a controversial part of the old plan — would be reduced by about 77% under the new plan.

The new plan would allocate $11.6 million in today’s dollars to help the Talent community recover from the Almeda Fire, as opposed to $38 million in the plan that had been developed before Rooklyn took charge of Talent’s urban renewal program.

The scaled-back plan includes $3.3 million for risk reduction and prevention of future emergencies, compared to $3.7 million under the old plan. The plan says it would address future flow deficiencies to hydrants in the urban renewal area, remove hazardous fuels along Bear and Wagner creeks, improve warning systems, help reduce overheating by replacing lost trees, and replace some water pipes to make them more resilient in case of disaster.

The new plan provides $2.9 million for city infrastructure, such as sidewalks, storm drains and streetlights, compared to $3.6 million under the old plan.

Commercial revitalization to restore and encourage small businesses would be allocated $2.75 million, compared to $5.6 million before.

New funding for affordable housing would be $1.6 million, about 6% of the $27 million under the previous proposal. The plan assumes that some additional funding will be raised from other sources.

The new plan would be projected to be in place for 17 years, compared to 30 years in the original plan. It now draws the urban renewal district boundary to include the city’s downtown commercial district, while removing some parts of the burn scar that were previously covered.

The City Council voted unanimously at a special meeting held via Zoom on Thursday, Dec. 29, to authorize Rooklyn to start a 45-day comment period to get input on the new plan from the public and other agencies. The council will decide in mid-February whether to make any changes and whether to send a plan to Talent voters on the May ballot, a rare step that is not required by law but that the council has committed to do before any plan would take effect.

Rooklyn reported to the council that “two years after the fire, 44 commercial lots remain vacant, 212 manufactured home spaces remain vacant, and 80 families are living in transitional housing within city limits. There are additional fire-impacted families who are still living outside of city limits in hotels, recreational vehicles, and FEMA housing, and the threat of wildfire, extreme weather, and other environmental hazards remains significant.”

Rooklyn’s report noted that a Housing Needs Analysis for Talent before the fire identified a deficit of approximately 600 units of affordable housing — a deficit made far worse by the fire.

The manufactured homes that have been placed post-fire are, on average, nearly four times more expensive, Rooklyn reported, making affordable housing initiatives necessary as “new manufactured homes will likely no longer be a viable source of affordable housing for lower-income households.”

Rooklyn also reported that 280 children are still displaced from the school district due to the fire, and that many others are being bused to Talent schools, requiring as much as 1.5 hours in transit per day.

State law (ORS 457.160) authorizes a city to adopt an urban renewal district when “an area is in need of redevelopment or rehabilitation as a result of a flood, fire, hurricane, earthquake, storm or other catastrophe.”

Urban renewal would allow Talent to borrow money to invest in restoring its community without raising tax rates — and then pay back that money with the increase in property tax revenue that results from the improvements.

Medford, Phoenix, Jacksonville and Central Point are among the more than 75 cities in Oregon that have used this tool. Jackson County also operated an urban renewal district for White City.

As provided by state law governing all urban renewal plans, other taxing districts’ rate of revenue growth is temporarily reduced a small amount while increased revenue from the designated zone is earmarked to pay back the urban renewal loans. After the loans are repaid, all taxing districts are expected to receive more revenue than they would have if no urban renewal plan had been implemented, due to increased property values.

Under Rooklyn’s new plan, Fire District No. 5’s rate of revenue growth would be $64,847 less in the first year, or less than 1% of the district’s current budget, rising to $306,957 in the 17th and final year. The total impact would be 77% less than under the original plan. The new plan would benefit the fire district by helping to fund fire prevention and preparedness.

The rate of growth in the city of Talent’s regular budget would be $65,536 less in the first year, rising to $310,221 in the 17th year. The city would benefit from funding for public works, fire prevention and other purposes.

Rogue Valley Transportation District’s rate of annual revenue growth would be $3,594 less at first and $17,011 by the end. The plan would benefit RVTD by helping displaced fire survivors return to the community.

The library district’s rate of growth would be $10,546 less at first, rising to $49,918 in year 17.

Rooklyn’s proposed plan and accompanying report are available here.

Matt Witt is a writer and photographer living in Talent.

Dec. 30 update: Emphasis added that the May ballot measure is a discretionary step which the council has committed to take.

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Email him at
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