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Building roads to nowhere

by Len Crosby
| April 24, 2010 9:00 PM

The Tea Party movement in our community has been quick to condemn wasteful spending by the federal government. As a fiscal conservative, I agree with their demands for financial transparency and fiscal prudence, but I believe that those who are concerned about these things also need to increase their focus on local matters.

On April 15, without a public hearing or any opportunity for public comment, the Post Falls Urban Renewal Agency voted to provide the developer of the Post Falls Landing development with a gift of $2 million of our tax dollars. In doing so, the agency has broken from its longstanding (18 year) tradition of only reimbursing developers from the future increase in property tax revenues created by the successful development of property in a renewal district.

In this instance, however, the agency has agreed to immediately take taxpayer monies that have accumulated in the City Center district and reimburse the developer for all of his costs of installing access roads and other public improvements on property that the developer owns, on the hope that, as the chairman of the agency said at the meeting, "If you build it they will come ..."

What sort of wonderful development occasioned this gift?

• A development that has been around for more than nine years with very little new construction completed over that time. Nine years - a period which encompasses years in which this and other North Idaho communities experienced a tremendous building boom. Not at this location, however, or with this developer.

• A development that has been long on promises and short on delivery.

• A development that has had to go back to the Planning Commission several times because the developer failed to complete promised improvements as agreed.

• A development which did not deliver a promised parking garage to those who purchased the completed condominium units.

The litany of failures and delays is extensive.

Did the URA take any collateral or place a lien on the development to ensure that it will recover OUR $2 million in tax dollars? It did NOT. Did they restrict the developer from selling the property to a third party and increase the price to reflect the improvements YOU paid for? They did NOT. Did the URA do even rudimentary due diligence to ensure that the developer has the financial capability to develop the property, do a credit check or any number of other basic underwriting checks? Doesn't appear that they did from their own minutes.

As one commissioner implied at the meeting (and I paraphrase but you can view the video of the meeting on the city's Web site): If we don't use this money, we'll have to give it back to the taxing entities.

Giving back the money would be one very good idea. What else could the agency do with its $2 million of OUR tax dollars? Continue the road improvements in the downtown core, provide grants or low interest loans to downtown homeowners and small businesses for property improvement, fund a city-run code enforcement program for that area (badly needed). The list goes on, but giving the tax dollars back to the taxpayer is at the top.

Perhaps Tea Party supporters should consider taking that passion and that demand for prudent use of OUR Tax Dollars to the steps of Post Falls City Hall. We need to also get our own house in order. I predict that in three years this $2 million will have been wasted on a street that only serves as an alternative location for skateboarders.

Len Crosby is a former Post Falls URA commissioner.

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