Tag Archives: Ted Wheeler

Balancing act: Ted Wheeler wants to talk urban renewal areas. Here’s why you should listen

tedwheelerunsharp

From the July 10 edition of Street Roots

From his corner office on the sixth floor of the Multnomah County building, County Chairman Ted Wheeler has a panoramic view of a lot of money; looking west is downtown Portland and the Pearl District, and looking north, the Interstate corridor and the Northeast renaissance. The city grows all around him.

Which makes dealing with a $46 million budget shortfall all the more bitter.

For the ninth year in a row, Multnomah County has been defunding — cutting public safety and health services — in order to adjust to a regressive tax formula for urban renewal.

Do not avert your eyes. Yes, the subjects of urban renewal areas and tax increment financing make for a powerful sedative, but they have begun to light fires under politicians’ and taxpayers’ feet. They are workhorses in local development plans, including a 30 percent dedication of those funds toward affordable housing. It’s how tax dollars move in this town, for better or worse.

The urban renewal construct – which draws an increment of property tax dollars as a funding incentive for projects in “blighted” areas — most recently flared up over the Major League Soccer deal. That proposal sought to draw urban renewal funds to build a minor league baseball stadium in Lents. It was later withdrawn, with Wheeler being the stony messenger decrying the use of such funds for such a project, and the consequences in depleting a property tax base that suports education, health care and safety programs in the most populated county in Oregon.

Joanne Zuhl: In your opinion, do you think the city has responsibly used urban renewal areas to this point?

Ted Wheeler: I support urban development, I support job creation, I support the creation of urban renewal areas around truly blighted areas that would not be developed but for the investment of tax increment financing in those areas. I’m fundamentally opposed to the improper use of tax increment financing. If you invested in an area that is not truly blighted, you’re simply taking dollars away from a jurisdiction that would be providing important community services, whether it’s education, basic health, or basic human services.

J.Z.: On those criteria, how has the city performed?

T.W.: I think it has been a mixed bag, to be honest. It’s not just the city. I don’t think the county has been paying attention either, historically. We have not been good advocates for our basic services, nor have we made a clear statement to the community about the real trade offs that exist between creating new urban renewal areas and our ability to deliver basic health and safety services in this community.

I’m interested in the business at hand — which is whether we should create new urban renewal areas and whether we should expand existing ones.

What I want to do is drive into that conversation this very important issue of the trade off between existing services and the projects in urban renewal areas. My concern has been that because the county and the school districts have been asleep at the switch, and because the City Council has had this powerful tool, tax increment financing, available to it with virtually no oversight, they’ve used it as an ATM for projects that are important to the City Council but aren’t necessarily a top priority to the citizens of this community.

Tax increment financing (TIF) is easy money, and it shouldn’t be easy money. It should be the dollars of last resort. There are other ways you can fund projects, whether it’s debt, whether it’s an economic enterprise zone, whether it’s going out and finding private-sector investors. You should only use TIF in the case where there couldn’t be any other development but for the TIF dollars.

J.Z.: Do we really have areas of such blight – that we need urban renewal incentives?

T.W.: The legal definition of blight is wishy-washy, so that almost any neighborhood in this city could be described as blighted. Blight includes surfaced parking lots, improper developments that were mistakes that were made previously. Continue reading

April Fools: City, County and State government confused about stimulus – Merkley says time are hard

dollarnote_siegel_hqFrom the April 1 edition of Street Roots. (The April Fools edition was one of the most popular Street Roots ever published. We sold out of the newspaper in a week and ordered more. It’s on the streets for two more days – get your copy while it’s hot!)

Angry legislative aides lashed out at reporters Friday for asking questions about the economy during a roundtable on the stimulus package.

The roundtable, focused on how stimulus dollars will be used to help Oregon’s lagging economy, included representatives from the state of Oregon, Multnomah County and the city of Portland.

After a heated discussion turned into a free-for-all, reporters asked civic leaders when exactly communities would see the millions of dollars promised to the region from the federal government.

“We don’t know,” said a staffer at the governor’s office. “It’s not clear that we have figured out how to figure out how to allocate the money being allocated to us. It’s complicated.”

Asked by Street Roots if affordable housing money promised to local communities would be seen in the next six months, the aide said, “Look, even if we get the money, there are a lot of things we need to discuss before we just hand over millions of dollars to the dying private sector and drowning nonprofits working on these issues. We have a process in Salem.”

Asked what that process was, the aide responded, “I’ve already told you. We don’t know exactly.”

Street Roots has been told by insiders that the governor’s office wants the money allocated one way and the state Legislature another. The aide later denied these reports, saying, “Look, if we had it my way, we would completely do away with people living with mental illness and substance abusers, but we don’t live in a perfect world, now do we?”

One state representative from Southern Oregon told the roomful of reporters that they wanted control of slashing the state budget for Oregon’s most vulnerable citizens, and that the governor’s office was taking too much of the credit for the system being completely broken.

“Before any money is allocated, state legislators are going to require that every interest group working with affordable housing tell us just how miserable things are,” said the representative. “We just can’t allow for all that money to go to housing people like that. There’s a process for this stuff. We’ve already been burned once.”

Multnomah County Chairman Ted Wheeler was the only politician willing to talk one-on-one with Street Roots after the roundtable. Wheeler said he’ll do whatever it takes to expedite the process of getting dollars on the ground for projects in the pipeline.

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