By CATHY CLARK
Keizer’s only Urban Renewal District has been used to build projects important to Keizer residents and businesses and is now needed to ensure the city can stay on track to pay off the Local Improvement District (L.I.D.). The proceeds from those L.I.D. properties will then allow us to eventually continue improvements on River Road.
Urban Renewal paid for repaving River Road and putting utility wires underground, upgrading sidewalks and landscaping, and designing safer driveways. Keizer Station roadways, Cherry Avenue upgrades, and our Civic Center all were possible and paid in full because of Urban Renewal. And private investment has followed public investment. From façade improvements to new construction, these sections of Keizer have seen growth.
Urban Renewal has been based on public processes like River Road Renaissance and Keizer Compass Visioning that created plans and goals to guide project selection. The citizen Keizer Urban Renewal Board and River Road Renaissance committee have worked hard to make sure projects carry out those goals.
The Urban Renewal district has run its course. The taxes from the improvements will soon finish paying for projects and become part of paying our regular bills, which is what the city and taxing districts that also serve Keizer have been looking forward to. Urban Renewal has done exactly what it was designed to do.
Part of paying for Keizer Station roads and utilities, however, involved forming the Keizer Station L.I.D. Property owners repay the city for development costs through the L.I.D. and save money through lower interest rates. The city benefits from increased property values and paying principal as quickly as allowed. The L.I.D. bond debt was designed with a conservative early payoff plan with no balloon payment, three times the value to debt ratio, and a cushion in case of a default. No one expected to have to use that cushion, but the long recession has taken its toll and some properties are in default. The good news is that the payoff model is almost to the point where even the default will not cause a balloon payment for the city. Reserving a portion of the Urban Renewal District funds will ensure the city payoff plan stays on track.
Our city staff is working hard with financial experts to make sure we reserve only what we need. The city already took the unprecedented step in 2006 to shrink the Urban Renewal District early, benefiting schools, the county, public safety, etc. Our plan is to shrink it again by about another 66 percent. Finally, in four years, sooner if possible, when the city’s L.I.D. repayment fund is securely on schedule, the district will close completely.
The financial health and security of our city ensures we can reliably provide essential services. Pushing problems into the future for “someone else” to deal with is not responsible, financially or ethically. Together, we plan for the worst and work toward the best to make sure we return the best possible service for each dollar received from Keizer taxpayers.
Cathy Clark is a member of the Keizer City Council.