Urban renewal agency will get early send-off

The agency responsible for helping revitalize downtown Talent will be disbanded three years earlier than planned.

"They have done their job and it's time to move on," said Mayor Don Steyskal.

The City Council voted last week to dissolve the Talent Urban Renewal Agency in 2016 to free up more tax money for city coffers starting in 2017. The move is not expected to affect projects already budgeted.

"I think we can do all the most important projects," said agency Director Marla Cates. "We may not be able to have ample money for a large surprise project."

Council members voted 4-1 on Jan. 16 to close the agency early. Bill Cecil, Brian Roberts, Bob Wilson and E.J. McManus voted in favor. Wendy Siporen voted against the measure. Lynn Perkins was absent, and Steyskal did not vote.

"The council in the past has always recognized the long-term benefit of urban renewal outweighing the short-term loss to the general fund," Siporen said. "The actual package the council voted for isn't going to jeopardize any major projects, but I was voting from a principle position."

Revenues from increased tax assessments throughout town go to the agency to pay off bonds on improvements that are done within the urban renewal district's boundaries.

Cates told the council members that by dissolving urban renewal in 2016, the city would receive an additional $140,000 in 2017. That figure would rise to $236,000 in 2020. Council members previously discussed the desirability of getting those funds earlier to finance services or enhancements for residents throughout the city.

The agency's largest remaining project is realignment of West Valley View Road where it enters downtown. Grants will pay for part of the work, which is expected to cost $3 million. Talent Avenue from Main Street to Colver Road also will be enhanced, and the building facade rehabilitation grant program will continue until 2016, said Cates. Small amounts of money may be available for limited street work or to help with affordable housing until the agency dissolves, she said.

Since it was founded in 1991, urban renewal has helped upgrade Main Street, purchased land for the skate park and depot building, improved water, storm drain and sewer lines, and provided lighting and sidewalk enchantments throughout downtown. Starting in 2005, the agency expanded its scope to include construction of the new City Hall and civic center, and urban renewal funds contributed to the new library.

Cates said the council's decision to disband urban renewal early is not unusual.

"The city established urban renewal as a long-term investment strategy. We are doing our job," she said. "It's not uncommon for urban renewal agencies to close a few years early if they get most of their projects completed."

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboom8929@charter.net.

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