Urban Renewal Agency eyes money from land deal

Tentative meeting set to prioritize ideas for downtown Lewiston

By Sandra L. Lee of the Tribune

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The new Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories expansion into Lewiston is expected to mean at least $135,000 a year for the Lewiston Urban Renewal Agency.

That would enable the agency to pay the $380,000 remaining on the $500,000 loan that built the street and utilities on the 25 acres Schweitzer is buying within two to three years, depending on the final values developed by the Nez Perce County assessor’s office and whether property values continue to escalate.

City Attorney Don L. Roberts told the urban renewal board at its regular meeting Tuesday it will have the option of paying off the loan quickly or using some of the money to develop other sites within the Area 2 tax increment area. Area 2 is the Port of Lewiston Business and Technology Park east of Thain Grade. It includes the land purchased by SEL as well as about 18 acres on the west side of Juniper Drive.

There is some urgency to paying off the loan, because the money was borrowed from taxes set aside in Area 3 in downtown Lewiston and the board is trying to come up with a project there.

A meeting to prioritize all the studies, plans and ideas for downtown Lewiston and move them forward has been tentatively set for the evening of Nov. 9. The idea is once private developers have decided what they want to do, the urban renewal agency will be able to see where it can best affect the final product, Community Development Director Laura Von Tersch said.

Assessor Daniel J. Anderson said it will take a couple of days to make accurate estimates of how much the property taxes will increase. However, using 2009 tax levies, the $10 million building being discussed by SEL would have a property tax bill of $187,129. Of that, the Lewiston School District would get $52,975, leaving $134,154 for the urban renewal agency.

The land itself will generate a few thousand dollars more, but to come up with a fairly accurate figure will require developing land values as of Jan. 1, 2005, and for the present. About half SEL’s purchase has been exempt from taxation because it has been owned by a public entity, and the other half was agricultural, which has a low tax value.

Some of the business park was included in a planned-unit development, Anderson said, and will be assessed based on whether it was to be developed for commercial or residential uses.

If there was no urban renewal agency, the tax money would go to the city, county, port and various smaller taxing districts.

The way it works is revenue allocation areas are defined geographically. In each of those areas, any tax dollars generated by new construction or increases in market value after Jan. 1, 2005, will be set aside for development in a smaller internal area. Bonds may be sold or other loans arranged to build projects, and those “captured” property taxes are used to pay them off. That’s called tax increment financing.

A business incubator is one of the things the board has discussed in the past, Von Tersch said.

SEL originally was looking at the port land on the west side of Juniper Drive, but moved to the east side because it was ready to build on, Von Tersch said.

“The community needs to know it was the urban renewal agency that got this shovel-ready and will put that money back on the tax rolls,” Roberts said. “It just worked perfectly, the whole concept, … and hopefully the Legislature will understand that.”

Douglas Mattoon, newly appointed head of Valley Vision and also an Asotin County commissioner, said he is committed to helping SEL get broadband access from near Red Wolf Crossing to the new site, and asked if urban renewal funds would be available.

The agency is limited to projects within its jurisdictional boundaries, which include downtown Lewiston, a portion of North Lewiston and the port’s business park, Von Tersch said.

In other business, Progressive Engineering Group of Lewiston bid $7,050 to lay out new lanes, striping and diagonal parking on D Street between Fifth and Second streets.

Lee may be contacted at [email protected] or (208) 848-2266.