Talent Council agrees to scale back urban renewal plan, put it before voters

After the Almeda fire, Talent residents took part in an art exhibit that called for bringing all fire survivors home to housing they can afford. Matt Witt photo
August 17, 2022

Decisions to be formalized at meeting this evening; residents’ vote would not be until spring

By Matt Witt

A draft urban renewal plan should be scaled back and the revised plan put before city voters next spring, the Talent City Council unanimously decided at a meeting Tuesday, Aug. 16. Staff was instructed to prepare a resolution formalizing those decisions for adoption by the council at its meeting starting at 6:45 p.m. today, Aug. 17, its second meeting in two days.

The scaled-back plan is expected to have less of an impact on other taxing districts while still providing funding for affordable housing, bringing back displaced fire survivor households, restoring small businesses lost in the Almeda fire, and taking fire prevention and resilience measures that are not in the mission or budget of Jackson County Fire District 5.

The council decisions came at a special meeting to review feedback on a draft urban renewal plan from other taxing districts, including Jackson County, the fire district, Jackson County Library District, and Rogue Valley Transportation District (RVTD).

The council did not go along with requests from Jackson County and the fire district to reject the urban renewal plan entirely.

But it did accept a request from RVTD to make a major technical change in the plan that will significantly reduce its impact on other taxing districts. That change to push back the funding mechanism by one year was also suggested by the city of Phoenix, which already has an urban renewal plan of its own. Talent City Manager Jordan Rooklyn had also presented that option as a way to preserve existing city services.

The money saved by other taxing districts will be calculated after a new tax roll report is issued by the Jackson County assessor in October.

Rooklyn will then develop a revised plan that will go through a comment period and council consideration and then be put before Talent voters (a rare step that is not required by law) at the next opportunity, which is expected to be in May.

An urban renewal plan would be designed to provide funding for development of new housing stock, land acquisition for affordable housing, collaboration with nonprofit housing developers, and other renewal strategies.

It could also help businesses lost in the Almeda fire, develop incubator hubs for small business startup and growth, and support capacity for workforce training and diversity, equity, and inclusion.

In addition, urban renewal funds could save lives and money by developing hazard mitigation programs along greenways and Wagner Creek; installing emergency resiliency satellite hubs; improving emergency signage, wayfinding and routing; and providing assistance for planting trees to reduce overheating of the area. The Almeda Fire demonstrated the need for such prevention and preparedness measures to complement the response mission of the fire district, council members said.

The rate of revenue growth for other taxing districts is temporarily impacted by all urban renewal plans, including the ones implemented by Phoenix, Medford, Jacksonville, Central Point and more than 75 other cities in Oregon.

Once a plan is adopted, the city is able to borrow money to invest in improvements in a designated zone — in this case, part of the area covered by Talent’s burn scar. Those improvements result in increased tax revenue from that zone. That increase is used temporarily to repay the loan.

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 receive more revenue than they would have if no urban renewal plan had been implemented.

One-third of Talent’s housing was destroyed in the Almeda fire, exacerbating an already existing affordable housing crisis, and 60 percent of small businesses were lost as well.

Rebuilding of affordable housing has been particularly slow. At least 350 school children have still been unable to return to the community, according to state Rep. Pam Marsh.

Many households have been living in temporary arrangements that will end soon, without affordable alternatives on the horizon. Rents and home prices have soared, pricing out many long-time residents.

Talent urban renewal has drawn emails of support from dozens of Talent residents who say they want to maintain an affordable and diverse community.

It also has drawn letters of concern, many from people who live outside the Talent community, following a mailing by Jackson County Fire District 5 to 23,000 households, about 80 percent of which are not in Talent.

Fire District 5’s mailing included the claim that the original Talent urban renewal plan would mean the district would not be able to fund its personnel for three years, make payments on fire engines for 80 years, or obtain needed materials and services for 20 years.

Figures published in the draft of the plan (that will now be scaled back) showed that the fire district’s tax income would still climb steadily by hundreds of thousands of dollars every year despite urban renewal because the urban renewal zone in part of the burn scar is only 5% of the fire district. The only effect would be to slow the rate of revenue growth, by about half a percent in the first year and by an average 4.75% over 30 years.

Under the original plan, fire district tax income would still grow by $229,571 in the first year, by $241,796 in the second year, and so on. Over the 30 years it would still grow from $6.4 million per year to more than $18 million per year.

Along with Fire District 5, Phoenix Mayor Terry Baker has also expressed his opposition to Talent’s plan. Baker repeated the fire district’s claims and said that proper urban renewal plans like Phoenix’s are designed to provide “a good deal for developers” by acquiring land and selling it to them “cheap.”

Opposition also has come from Jackson County commissioners Colleen Roberts, Rick Dyer and Dave Dotterer. The county budget – which exceeds a half billion dollars per year — would still grow every year under the original draft of the Talent urban renewal plan, but the rate of growth would be an average of half a percent less per year over 30 years.

Matt Witt is a writer and photographer in Talent.

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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