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Day: February 6, 2012

Urban renewal extension will help pay bond debt

Of the Keizertimes

An urban renewal extension to cover the city of Keizer’s bond debt was approved on first reading by the city council Monday night.

The change will allow the urban renewal district to collect more than $5.7 million before reaching the new maximum indebtedness cap. Part of the plan includes defunding the city’s River Road Renaissance (RRR) program, created to revitalize the city’s urban core in a bid to help compete with Keizer Station.

The council’s vote was initially 5-1, with Councilor Joe Egli voting no. Councilor David McKane was absent. But he later agreed to change his vote to yes so that the council wouldn’t have to vote on the matter again. Ordinances require two votes if the first is not unanimous.

Egli said the proposal takes needed funds away from the RRR program. He also said councilors were straying from promises to let the district sunset this year.

“Urban renewal was meant for investing in our community, for growing and getting a return, and this will not do that,” Egli added.

Councilor Jim Taylor saw the vote as insurance for the city. He said that having a lump sum due in 2025 – when the principal is due on the bonds – would render the city insolvent.

The extension got more than the required approvals from neighboring agencies, including Marion County, Salem-Keizer School District, Salem-Keizer Transit and Keizer Fire District. Chemeketa Community College has yet to concur.

The plan allows the urban renewal district to collect 35 percent of what it would have collected with a simple extension of the district, with 65 percent going to other taxing districts. It includes paying back the money other districts will forgo.

The move comes as an original Keizer Station co-developer has failed to make payments on a local improvement district (LID) city officials described as the largest in state history.

One resident testifying at Monday night’s meeting openly wondered if the city was giving a free ride to developer Chuck Sides, who hasn’t made a payment on the LID debt in nearly a year.

“He’s not off the hook,” said Mayor Lore Christopher. “This is step one so we can foreclose on that property, take it back and sell it. He will take a loss.”

Salem-Keizer School District will receive annual payments of approximately $33,000 for 10 years. Other jurisdictions will see repayment by 2022, with interest.

City councilors in 2008 opted to put the full faith and credit of the city behind Keizer Station’s developers with $26.8 million in bonds. The assessment was spread out over benefiting property owners within the shopping complex.

Some land owners, like Target, paid theirs immediately. Alan Roodhouse, an original partner in the development, continues to make regular, on-time payments. And much of the development was sold to Donahue Schriber, a Costa Mesa, Calif.–based shopping center development and operating firm which likewise continues to make payments.

But Sides, who partnered to start the development, has not made payments since January 2011. Assessments are sent out every February and August. On the five parcels owned or controlled by Sides, the August 2010 assessments are paid off on three of the five parcels. Partial payments were made were made on the other two.

Congressman! Can you spare a dime?

Congressman Kurt Schrader chats with Cathy Clark, a Keizer city councilor, at a roundtable of area elected officials. (KEIZERTIMES/Jason Cox)

Of the Keizertimes

Give us money and get out of our way.

That was the crux of many local leaders’ plea to Congressman Kurt Schrader, who was in town Monday for a roundtable of elected and appointed officials from cities, counties, school districts and other agencies from Keizer to the coast.

Schrader, a second-term Democrat who previously served in both chambers of the Oregon State Legislature, said not to expect much out of Congress this year.

“I’m not sure we’re going to be doing a whole heck of a lot over the next eight or nine months,” Schrader said. “Unlike split control in our state legislature, split control has not worked so well in Washington D.C.”

Rising to the surface were calls for ensuring the Woodburn interchange project gets final funding, along with pleas to help local police agencies and school districts avoid more layoffs and hiring freezes.

Saying the Woodburn project should be a no-brainer, he acknowledged local governments are hard-pressed to pull off such massive undertakings without federal help.

“The cost has just gotten so high to do anything now it’s gotten almost impossible to afford it,” Schrader said. “We do have folks in D.C. who see infrastructure spending as wasteful… I see very few frivolous dollars spent in that area and it’s a way to create immediate jobs and set communities up for long-term success.”

Pete McCallum, a Woodburn city councilor, also pressed Schrader on immigration. While the congressman said he supports “comprehensive reform,” he touted his opposition to mandatory private sector use of the E-Verify system, which Schrader said would have “ended farming in the Willamette Valley.”

But he also acknowledged the emotions that rise to the surface when the mere word of immigration is mentioned, and expressed fears Congress will get little done on the issue in the near future.

School officials from Salem-Keizer and Cascade school districts urged Schrader to continue funding and allow more flexibility in Title I grants, which are given to schools based on the population of low-income students.

“One (reason) is to target kids who need help that don’t come to school prepared for whatever reason,” said Darin Drill, superintendent for Cascade School District.

Keizer City Councilor Cathy Clark pushed for the third bridge proposal in Salem to get consideration. She said the environmental impact study is near completion.

“This particular iteration will hopefully get some traction, but it’s funding,” Clark said. “This is a regional project with regional impact.”

She also asked Schrader to ensure that funding for public, educational and governmental access to television stays in place; fees from cable companies currently pay that bill. Such channels routinely carry civic programming like city council meetings.

“The more eyes we have on our meetings, the better communication we have in our community,” Clark said.

Keizer Fire Chief Jeff Cowan asked Schrader to pursue tax credits for volunteer firefighters, noting that some 70 percent of firefighters nationwide are volunteers.

“I’m totally supportive of that,” Schrader said.

Kate Tarter and Marcia Kelly, both of whom serve on the Salem-Keizer Transit (Cherriots) board, urged more funding – or at least no cutting – for public transit.

“Public transit is a way to help people get jobs and stay off of social services,” Tarter said.